Many drivers in Kansas City, Missouri, fear the possibility of being involved in an accident with a drunk driver with a blood-alcohol content above the legal limit. However, a recent study suggests that even drivers who have only had one drink may put their fellow motorists in danger if those drivers are over the age of 50. This surprising finding suggests that many motorists may be in danger of being involved in intoxicated driving accidents caused by older drivers.
Impairment after one drink
Most people know that alcohol tolerance decreases with age. The cognitive skills necessary to drive safely do as well, which means drinking can significantly increase accident risk for older drivers. Still, in the past, many people may have assumed that the effects of legal levels of alcohol on driving ability were still negligible.
A recent study from the University of Florida suggests otherwise. According to CBS, the study participants were all self-described social drinkers who were either between 25 and 36 years old or 55 and 70 years old. They were asked to complete a simulated driving test, once while sober and once after consuming a drink researchers prepared. Some participants received a placebo drink, while others receive an alcoholic cocktail designed to bring BAC level to .065 percent or .04 percent.
The younger drivers did not show significant impairments when performing the simple simulation after a single drink, regardless of BAC level. The older drivers, however, showed decreased ability in all of the skills researchers observed at both legal BAC levels. These skills were:
- Driving at a consistent speed.
- Staying centered within the lane.
- Steering responsively and precisely.
The driving test involved minimal distractions or challenges; participants were merely asked to navigate a curving country road. In a more challenging simulation or a real-life setting, researchers may have observed even more significant performance issues.
These findings are alarming given that the population of elderly drivers is increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, 33 million licensed drivers were older than 65. This figure represented an increase of 23 percent from 1999. If many older drivers are like the ones in the study – that is to say, social drinkers who have had years to form the impression that “just one drink” will not affect driving ability – then innocent drivers could face a growing risk of being harmed in alcohol-related accidents.
Intoxication below the legal limit
Even if a driver is below the legal blood-alcohol limit, he or she can be arrested for DUI, according to resources from the Missouri Department of Revenue. These drivers can also be held responsible for any accidents or resulting harm that they cause if it can be shown that they were at fault in causing the accident.
Anyone who has been hurt in an accident involving an intoxicated driver should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss legal options such as seeking compensation.