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How does alcohol affect driving skills?

The holidays always bring plenty of opportunities for making merry in Connecticut, and several opportunities to drink and drive. Despite the DUI checkpoints, repeated public service warnings not to drink and drive and the availability of ride-share programs to see drinkers home, they may still be tempted to get behind the wheel after having “just a few,” putting you and others on the road in danger. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol weakens brain function, impairing one's ability to reason, think and react. The body quickly absorbs alcohol into the bloodstream, where it builds up until the liver is able to process it. The buildup is known as blood alcohol concentration, and a BAC limit of 0.08 percent or more earns DUI drivers an arrest in all 50 states. But that doesn’t mean alcohol doesn't impair a driver in lower amounts. In fact, more than 2,000 were killed in crashes that involved a driver with a BAC between 0.01 and 0.07 percent.

Here is a breakdown of how alcohol affects one's driving skills at various BAC levels:

  • BAC of 0.02 percent: A drinker experiences relaxation, mood change and loss of judgment. Vision is affected, with the loss of rapid-tracking ability and one's ability to focus is affected.
  • BAC of 0.05 percent: As a feeling of euphoria begin to sink in, drinkers make exaggerated gestures and actions. Judgment is impaired, you are less alert and have decreased coordination and trouble steering. Drivers have decreased response time.
  • BAC of 0.08 percent: Drinkers have poor balance, speech and impaired judgment and reasoning abilities. Drivers have trouble recognizing and remembering how to react to traffic signals, such as red lights.
  • BAC of 0.10 percent: Extremely slowed reasoning and loss of reaction time. Poor coordination and weaving through traffic.

The annual death toll from DUI crashes between 2006 and 2016 is more than 10,000. Drivers have plenty of options for drinking and not driving, including arranging a ride home before a party; choosing a designated driver to stay sober; calling a taxi, ride-share program, friend or family member to pick them up, and more. 

If you are driving this holiday season, around town or across the country, practice defensive driving to avoid DUI drivers. Watch for cars that are weaving, speeding or driving extremely slow. If you suspect a vehicle is being driven by a DUI driver, call the police to report it. 

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