LA JOLLA, Calif. — Motorists who have consumed adult beverages but not reached the legal drunken driving mark — a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level — are still more likely to cause traffic collisions than those who are sober, according to a UC San Diego study released Thursday.
UCSD sociologist David Phillips and his team examined 570,731 fatal collisions from 1994 to 2011 in what he characterized as the first nationwide research on traffic accidents caused by minimally buzzed drivers.
They found that even people with a blood-alcohol level of 0.01 percent are 46 percent more likely than a sober driver to be officially and solely blamed by accident investigators for causing a collision.
Phillips and his team used a federal database that reports blood-alcohol levels by 0.01 percent increments. They found that blame increases steadily and smoothly from 0.01 to 0.24 percent.
“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,” Phillips said. “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. In fact, our data provide support for yet greater reductions in the legal (blood-alcohol level).”
He said police and judges — along with the public at large — treat the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol limit as “a sharp, definitive, meaningful boundary,” and authorities not impose severe penalties on those below that standard.
“The law should reflect what official accident investigators are seeing,” Phillips said.
More than 100 countries around the world have limits set at 0.05 percent or below, according to Phillips.
The study was published in Injury Prevention, a publication of the British Medical Journal.