Missouri drivers who are legally sober are still a threat to others

Two recent studies show that drivers who are legally sober may still be intoxicated enough to endanger other Missouri motorists.

In Missouri, enforcement of drunk driving laws is taken seriously; in 2012, over 9,000 drivers were arrested for DUI, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Many Kansas City residents may believe these measures are enough to deter poor decisions and reduce drunk driving accidents. Unfortunately, research suggests that Missouri laws overlook a subset of drivers who still pose a significant threat to other motorists.

Impaired while under the limit

One study published earlier this year revealed the accident risk associated with "minimally buzzed" drivers, or drivers with a blood-alcohol content of just .01. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, reviewed over 500,000 fatal auto accidents that occurred between 1994 and 2011, according to a UCSD press release about the study.

The existence of a legal blood-alcohol content limit suggests that there is a threshold between driving safely with alcohol in the system and driving intoxicated. However, researchers did not find evidence of such a threshold. Instead, they found that, compared to sober drivers, minimally buzzed drivers were 46 percent more likely to be completely blamed for fatal crashes during official accident investigations. As intoxication increased, so did the likelihood of blame.

Unfortunately, a number of otherwise responsible drivers may get behind the wheel while slightly intoxicated and believe they are doing nothing wrong. The UCSD research also found that minimally buzzed drivers usually are not punished more harshly than sober drivers when they are found responsible for accidents. This means many drivers may lack the knowledge or incentive to avoid driving when they believe they are under the legal BAC limit.

The issue of driving impaired while legally sober may become worse with age. Another study released earlier this year found that drivers between ages 55 and 70 showed impairment on a driving simulation while they were under the legal limit. According to Science Daily, University of Florida researchers gave each study participant a cocktail designed to bring BAC to .04 percent or .065 percent. Though participants were beneath the legal limit, they struggled with tasks such as:

  • Staying centered in their lanes
  • Holding a steady speed
  • Making timely steering wheel adjustments

All of the study participants were self-described social drinkers, so unfamiliarity with alcohol and its effects cannot explain the results. Instead, it appears that drinking has more significant impacts on the abilities of older drivers. These drivers may be especially likely to cause accidents if they are accustomed to driving while buzzed and if they believe, based on past experience, that doing so is acceptable.

Help for accident victims

Unfortunately, accidents with drivers who are "minimally buzzed" may affect many people in Missouri this year. In 2012, there were over 5,000 crashes involving drivers with BAC levels greater than .01 percent. These accidents resulted in more than 3,000 injuries.

Even if a driver has a BAC below the legal limit at the time of an accident, he or she may be found responsible for the crash and held liable for any resulting harm. Anyone who has been injured in an alcohol-related accident should consider speaking with an attorney about seeking compensation.

Keywords: drunk driving, accident, injury