How alcohol really affects safe driving

Impaired driving or driving under the influence of alcohol continues to be a serious problem in Rhode Island and across the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, every day 28 people die in car crashes involving a drunk driver. CDC offers information on drunk driving and how it can be prevented. One key to prevention is educating drivers on just what being drunk does to their ability to drive.

Legally, drunkenness is measured by blood alcohol content. The legal limit in all 50 states for people 21 years of age and older is .08 percent. That can be about four drinks, depending on the amount and type of alcohol consumed and the weight of the individual. At this level of blood alcohol content, a person's muscle coordination deteriorates and they may have difficulty concentrating and processing information. What that means for a driver is the potential to drive too fast or erratically, to miss traffic signals or to make poor judgments about normal encounters with other vehicles or pedestrians.

Even at lower BAC levels, some impairment of judgment, coordination and alertness can occur. Most states have lower BAC level limits for drivers under the age of 21 and commercial drivers. As few as two drinks have the potential to impair a driver's ability to drive safely.

Law enforcement uses BAC level tests to determine if a driver is legally impaired. In Rhode Island, implied consent law means that anyone who drives within the state implicitly consents to a blood alcohol test if they are stopped on suspicion of drunk driving. What this means is that a driver has the option to potentially avoid a DUI charge by refusing to take a blood alcohol test, but the refusal itself is a punishable offense. Penalties include a mandatory six-month driver's license suspension along with possible fines.

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Nicholas J. Hemond Attorney at Law
1 Turks Head Place, 12th Floor
Providence, RI 02903

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