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Study: Low, legal levels of alcohol still too much for older AL drivers

When many people in Huntsville think of drunk drivers, they think of people who are over the legal blood-alcohol content limit and obviously intoxicated. It can be easy to forget that people who have consumed perfectly legal amounts of alcohol can still be impaired enough to cause car accidents and injuries. A new study suggests that this risk may be especially pronounced among Alabama drivers who are older than 55.

Impairment at legal BAC levels

The University of Florida study investigated how low levels of alcohol consumption affected performance on a driving simulation. The simulation featured a winding road and few distractions. Participants completed the simulation once while sober and again after consuming a cocktail. Some participants received a drink designed to bring blood-alcohol content to .065 percent or .04 percent, while others received a placebo.

Among the younger group of participants, whose ages ranged from 25 to 35, researchers observed no change in performance. Among the other group of drivers, who were all between ages 55 and 70, researchers observed changes in the three skills they were tracking: ability to stay in the proper lane, maintain steady speed and adjust the steering wheel on curves. These findings are alarming in light of the following facts about the study:

  • Every participant was a self-described social drinker. The observed changes in performance cannot be attributed to the participants simply being unfamiliar with or unprepared for the effects of alcohol.
  • Participants did not take the test at a peak level of intoxication. Researchers timed the test to coincide with the decline of BAC levels in the body, in an attempt to capture how a person would perform while driving home after consuming one drink.
  • The simulation involved few of the challenges of everyday driving, such as responding to traffic signals, pedestrians or other vehicles. Participants simply navigated a country road.

This final point suggests that the impairments the older drivers displayed might be even more marked in a real-life setting.

Dangerous habits and misperceptions

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, aging can decrease the body’s alcohol tolerance. Additionally, many older people may use medications that react adversely with alcohol. Unfortunately, over their adult years, many people may have developed the belief that driving after “just one drink” is acceptable and even safe. These adults may be unaware of changes in their performance that put themselves and others at risk.

The National Institutes of Health reports that the risk of car accidents increases among drivers older than 55 even when other influences are not factored in. With alcohol taken into account, the overall likelihood of an older driver causing an accident may be significant.

Ignorance about personal alcohol tolerance and driving ability does not excuse a needless accident. Anyone who has been harmed in an accident involving an older or impaired driver should consider speaking with an attorney about seeking compensation.