Even a .01 blood alcohol content (BAC) can impair driving, reports a new large-scale study, which found small amounts of alcohol made drivers nearly twice as likely to be at fault in an accident with a sober driver.
"We find no safe combination of drinking and driving - no point at which it is harmless to consume alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car," lead researcher and University of San Diego sociologist David Phillips said in a press release.
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The researchers analyzed 570,731 fatal collisions between 1994 and 2011 from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database.
"Our data support both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's campaign that ‘Buzzed driving is drunk driving' and the recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board, to reduce the legal limit to BAC 0.05 percent," Phillips said. "In fact, our data provide support for yet greater reductions in the legal BAC."
In fact, the researchers found that even a BAC of .01 - the equivalent of one or two drinks, depending on weight and gender, and below the U.S. legal limit of .08 - are 46 percent more likely to be "officially and solely blamed" by accident investigators than the other driver (if the other driver is sober).
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The researchers also found no evidence that any certain level of BAC dramatically changes driving habits. Instead, they found a gradual upward trend starting at .01 BAC. But in the United States, "buzzed" drivers are not usually blamed, Phillips said. Instead, police, judges and the public view the legal limit of .08 percent as "a sharp, definitive, meaningful boundary."