Driver Education: The Dangers of Drinking and Driving

Updated by Jim Deckebach

For many in the U.S., obtaining a driver's license is a highly anticipated rite of passage that most often happens during one's teen years. A car represents freedom to move about independently, but one must also be aware of their responsibility as a driver. It is important that one understands and takes this responsibility seriously and does not operate a vehicle when they are unable to safely do so. This means not driving when under the influence of alcohol or other substances. Additionally, it's crucial that people understand why they should not drive when intoxicated and what the dangers are should they do so. While this applies to all drivers, younger or newly licensed drivers not only have less experience behind the wheel, which puts them at greater risk of getting into an accident, but they may be less aware of the risks associated with driving after drinking anything from wine to vodka.

Drinking and driving is a serious problem that is both dangerous and illegal. When drinking, alcohol enters the bloodstream, resulting in changes that greatly impair one's ability to operate a car or other vehicle. This increases their risk of getting into an accident with another vehicle or hitting a pedestrian. In order to drive safely, drivers must be able to see clearly, understand what is happening around them, react quickly and accurately, and have good judgment. Unfortunately, alcohol hinders one's ability to do these things. When a person drinks, they may experience blurred vision, slowed eye movement, difficulty tracking, and a change in depth perception. Reflexes are slowed, and their eye, hand, and foot coordination is diminished. Additionally, alcohol affects a person's mind and temperament, making it difficult to concentrate and comprehend what is happening on the road and around them in general. This may cause them to make poor decisions or fail to spot an avoidable danger on the road.

The degree to which alcohol causes these problems depends on how much they've had to drink, which is measured by their blood alcohol concentration. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is a measurement of the amount of alcohol that has entered the bloodstream. It is measured using a breath alcohol test or a blood test. While one must be aware of how much they drink, it is their BAC that has the most effect on their ability to drive, and this number is used to determine whether one should legally be driving. In every U.S. state, it is illegal to drive with a BAC that is 0.08 percent or greater. It is important that people understand that while it may be legal to drive with a BAC that is below 0.08 percent, their ability to drive is still impaired with any amount of alcohol in their system.

Alcohol isn't the only drug that makes it unsafe to drive. Substances such as prescription medications and illegal drugs can also impair a person's ability to drive. Drugs can make a driver feel drowsy, anxious, dizzy, or faint. They may also cause blurred vision, slow reactions, and impaired coordination. Drugs such as meth and cocaine may cause increased aggression on the road or recklessness. People who combine drugs and alcohol only worsen their impairment. Because of this heightened risk, some states have adopted laws with zero tolerance for drugged driving.

Drivers can do their part in staying safe by avoiding alcohol and drugs when they know they must drive. If one plans to drink outside of the home, designate a sober driver who is responsible and will not drink alcohol. Another option is to make plans with one's parents, or another non-drinking and trusted individual, to pick them up when they're ready to go home. Ride-sharing apps such as Lyft and Uber are also potentially life-saving alternatives if one doesn't have a designated driver or someone to call.


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