Last week we discussed the recent death of MTV star Ryan Dunn in a severe car accident. Dunn's blood alcohol level at the time of that accident was 0.196 percent, which is more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Although Dunn was heavily intoxicated when he crashed his Porsche into a tree and killed himself and a passenger, a new study reveals that severe car accidents are more likely even when drivers have just a single drink.
Drunk driving allegations began almost immediately after Dunn's accident was reported because Dunn tweeted a picture of himself drinking at a bar shortly before his death. A bar employee said that Dunn only had a few drinks and did not appear intoxicated when he left the bar, but new research indicates that no amount of alcohol makes for safe driving.
Researchers studied fatal car accidents that occurred over a 15 year period. The researchers found that when an average 180-lb. man had a single beer over a 2 hour period, a subsequent car accident was on average 37 percent more severe than an accident involving completely sober drivers. The severity of injuries and speed involved in car accidents increased incrementally with the blood alcohol levels of the drivers.
When the researchers put in controls for other contributing factors to car accidents, such as age and time of day, the relationship between accident severity and blood alcohol levels still persisted. The last year of the study was 2008 in which over 84,000 people were involved in accidents. Over 37,261 of these individuals died and over 10,000 suffered catastrophic personal injuries. Researchers hope that this study will lead to new legislation that increases driver safety.
"We hope that our study might influence not only U.S. legislators, but also foreign legislators, in providing empirical evidence for lowering the legal BAC even more," one of the researchers said. "Doing so is very likely to reduce incapacitating injuries and to save lives."
Source: Time, "Driving While Buzzed: No Amount of Alcohol Is Safe Behind the Wheel," Meredith Melnick, 6/22/11