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Chapter 13 Drunk Driving (Supplement)

Statistical Overview

  • Approximately 1,400 college students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes (Hingis et al. 2002).

  • Five hundred thousand students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol (Ibid.).

  • Two point one million students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four drove under the influence of alcohol in 2001 (Ibid.).

  • In 2000, 31% of all traffic fatalities occurred in crashes in which at least one driver or nonoccupant had a BAC of 0.10 g/dl or greater. Sixty-nine percent of the 12,892 people killed in such crashes were themselves intoxicated. The remaining 31% were passengers, nonintoxicated drivers, or nonintoxicated nonoccupants (Ibid.).

  • In 2000, 2,339 youth between the ages of fifteen and twenty were killed in alcohol-related traffic crashes (NHTSA 2001b).

  • In 2000, an estimated 310,000 persons were injured in crashes where police reported that alcohol was present—an average of one person injured approximately every two minutes (NHTSA 2001a).

  • The 16,653 fatalities in alcohol-related crashes in 2000 represent one alcohol-related fatality every thirty-two minutes and 40% of total traffic fatalities for the year (Ibid.).

The Implications of New BAC Legislation

On October 23, 2000, Congress enacted the .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration Bill as an attachment to the Transportation Appropriations Bill H.R. 4475. P.L. 106-346 requires states to adopt by 2004 a 0.08 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) as the legal limit for drunken-driving. Although some states have already modified their laws to fulfill this requirement, many states continue to use the higher level of 0.10 BAC as the legal limit for drunken driving. Failure to pass the 0.08 BAC at the state level by 2004 will result in a two percent reduction in federal highway appropriations, and failure to pass the 0.08 BAC by 2007 will result in an eight percent reduction (P.L. 106-346).

Blood alcohol concentration or BAC is a measurement of grams per deciliter of alcohol in the blood. In most states, a person is considered legally intoxicated when BAC is 0.10 or when alcohol makes up one-tenth of one percent of the person's blood. One drink equals 0.54 ounces of alcohol, which is the approximate amount of alcohol found in a can of beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of distilled spirits. The following examples explain the measurements from a consumption point of view:

  • An average 170-pound man who consumes four drinks in one hour on an empty stomach will reach a 0.08 percent BAC.

  • An average 137-pound woman would reach a 0.08 BAC after consuming about three drinks in one hour on an empty stomach (MADD n.d.).

The risk of drivers with a 0.08 BAC being killed in a crash is eleven times greater than that of drivers with no alcohol in their system. At a level of 0.10 BAC the risk of being killed in a crash is twenty-nine times higher. More than 20 percent of alcohol-related traffic deaths involve driver BAC levels below 0.10 BAC (Ibid.).

In an independent Gallup Survey sponsored by MADD and General Motors, 72 percent of Americans supported lowering the drunk driving limit to 0.08 BAC. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have a 0.08 BAC law in place and Massachusetts has used the 0.08 BAC as a standard without enacting a law. Seventeen states define intoxication at the 0.10 BAC level.

Recent studies completed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on the effects of lowering the illegal BAC limits from 0.10% to 0.08% indicate that the reduced limits, in conjunction with administrative license revocation, have had a measurable effect on reducing alcohol-related crash involvement. Researchers estimate that 0.08 BAC laws have reduced fatal crashes by 8 percent, resulting in 275 fewer fatalities. They project that if all fifty states had had such laws in effect, an additional 590 traffic fatalities could have been avoided (NHTSA n.d.).

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Chapter 13 Drunk Driving June 2002
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