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Consumption of Alcohol Impairs One's Ability to Drive. Emily Julia H Clary Sociology Department, Beloit College, Beloit, WI.

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Consumption of Alcohol Impairs One's Ability to Drive

Emily Julia H Clary

Sociology Department, Beloit College, Beloit, WI

Figure 1: The Blood Alcohol Concentration and Areas of Impairment Chart indicates the levels of impairment for each BAC (4). Figure 2: The Amundsen’s Blood Alcohol Level/ Weight Chart indicates the BAC that an individual will experience depending on his or her weight, and how many drinks he or she has consumed (9). As BAC levels rise, so does the risk of being involved in a fatal crash (4).


Although many people are aware that the consumption of alcohol can impair the consumer’s ability to operate motor vehicles, most people do not realize that as little as one drink can affect a person’s driving ability. I hypothesized that there is a direct correlation between the amount of alcohol consumed and the level of impairment experienced. I investigated this claim by reading scientific studies, analyzing data tables, and viewing videos that focus on the correlation between the consumption of alcohol and the ability to utilize motor skills. I discovered that after consuming a drink of alcohol, a person will experience impairments in: their ability to divide their attention, react quickly in situations, and visually function. After about two drinks, a person will experience: impaired eye movement control, a decreased ability to stand steadily, and a reduction in the ability to respond effectively in case of an emergency. After about three or four drinks, a person will experience a decrease in the ability to process information and make good judgments. Finally, following four or five drinks, a person will experience difficulties concentrating his or her attention and controlling his or her speed. The results may vary depending on weight, gender, height, etc. The studies show that the consumption of alcohol increases the danger of getting into an accident. Driving while impaired by alcohol is not only risky to the driver, but also life threatening to others on the road. Because of this risk, the government has implemented a limit on a driver’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08 in Wisconsin to reduce the number of traffic accidents. In addition, because of lack of experience with alcohol, anyone under 21 years of age is more likely to get into a car crash when under the influence of alcohol.

More Results:

Figure 1: Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) and Areas of Impairment Chart



.08 Concentrated attention, speed control


.06 Information processing, judgment



.03 Eye movement control, standing steadiness, emergency responses


.01 Divided attention, choice reaction time, visual function

There are many methods that people rely on in order to “sober up” quickly: drinking coffee, taking a shower, exercising or eating a big meal. Unfortunately these are all myths. The only effective way to sober up is time. It is imperative that an individual wait approximately one hour for each drink consumed before getting behind the wheel, although there are slight variations in the time, etc. depending on one’s body mass (3).

Because of the many consequences of alcohol-impaired driving, many advocacy groups have been organized that criticize drunk driving, and encourage tighter regulations and restrictions on individuals who chose to drink and drive. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) are two organizations that have gained considerable clout and have made significant headway in making the laws more harsh for alcohol impaired drivers (1). These organizations have been successful at swaying public opinion to oppose drunk driving. As a result, many people perceive the act of impaired driving as a criminal act.


The consequences of drinking and driving include, but are not limited to: potential injury to driver or others on the road, property damage, and criminal prosecution. As a result of the criminal prosecution, a driver may lose his or her driving privileges, receive hefty fines, or serve jail time (6). Due to the efforts of advocacy groups such as MADD and SADD, driving under the influence of alcohol has become a highly stigmatized activity by society’s standards. It is important to remember that as little as one drink can cause driving impairments. With each additional drink consumed, a person will experience increased impairments of motor skills and other necessary bodily functions when operating motor vehicles. As a result, it is vital to refrain from driving under the influence and encourage friends and loved ones to do the same. Although there are many “tricks” that people swear by in order to sober-up quickly, none of them are legitimate. If it is necessary to drive after drinking, remember to wait one hour for each drink consumed before getting behind the wheel- ideally longer just to be safe. However, since there is a zero-tolerance policy for minors, the risks and penalties for drinking and driving for people under the age of 21 are much greater. The benefits of getting home quickly by no means outweigh the serious consequences related to driving under the influence of alcohol. By refraining from driving under the influence of alcohol, you could potentially save someone else’s life-as well as your own!

Nearly 40% of all highway-related accidents and fatalities are attributed to alcohol-impaired driving (2). Alcohol-impaired driving will inevitably affect most people in some way since an estimated two-fifths of Americans will be in an alcohol-related crash at some point in their life (2). Therefore, it should be no surprise that 33.8% of drivers between the ages of 21 and 25 have admitted to driving while under the influence of alcohol (5). Unfortunately, teenagers are more likely to get into an alcohol-related accident than people over 21 years of age because they are less experienced on the roads and have a tendency to take more risks in traffic such as speeding and not wearing seat belts (2).

The ways alcohol impairs one’s ability to drive and the negative implications of driving under the influence of alcohol are of great concern. The possible consequences of driving while intoxicated include getting into an accident and killing yourself or others, getting in trouble with the law, paying hefty fines, and damaging property.



1. Dejong, William and Anne Russell. “MADD’s Position on Alcohol Advertising: A Response to Marshall and Oleson.” Journal of Public Health Policy, Vol. 16, No. 2. (1995), pp. 231-238.

2. Gerdes, Louise I, Ed. Drunk Driving: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2001.

3. Graves, Bonnie. Alcohol Use and Abuse. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2000.

4. Hayley, James, ed. Drunk Driving. Gale Group. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2002.

5. Join Together (Boston University). “One in Three Young Adults Drink and Drive.” Boston, MA: <>.

6. National Highway Traffic Administration. “You Drink & Drive. You Lose.” <>.

7. Petridou, Eleni and Maria Moustaki. “Human Factors in the Causation of Road Traffic Crashes.” European Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 16, No. 9. (2000), pp. 819-826.

8. Phelps, Charles E. “Risk and Perceived Risk of Drunk Driving among Young Drivers.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 6, No. 4. (1987), pp. 708-714.

9. Thorburn, Doug. Get Out of the Way! How to Identify and Avoid a Driver Under the Influence. Northridge, CA: Galt Publishing, 2002. pg

10. Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles. “DUI and DWI Information.”


11. Wisconsin Department of Transportation. “0.08 BAC Law in Wisconsin.” 2003. <>.


In order to explore in depth about alcohol-impaired driving, I reviewed published scholarly literature. I also watched videos about the effects of alcohol consumption on the body in order to understand the effects and consequences of driving while impaired by alcohol. I also consulted the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles as well as the Department of Transportation in order to better understand the Wisconsin statutes regarding alcohol and driving.


Studies show that alcohol affects the ability to drive in a variety of ways. Alcohol impairs motor skills, blurs vision, impairs reflexes and coordination, alters time and distance judgment, and produces drowsiness (7). Factors that indicate if someone is intoxicated while driving include: driving on the shoulder, abruptly swerving or stopping, drifting between lanes, riding the brakes, slow response to traffic signals, poor merging, and weaving in and out of traffic (9). When stopped by the police if suspected for driving under the influence of alcohol, the driver may be required to take a sobriety test in order to test the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC). If the driver’s BAC exceeds 0.08 in Wisconsin, the driver is deemed over the legal limit and will be punished by the law. A DUI can be quite costly because a driver may need to pay an attorney fee, as well as experience an increase in his or her insurance rate. Often the guilty party will have their license revoked or suspended, be forced to attend alcohol treatment programs, and even spend time in jail (10).

Minors are involved in fatal crashes twice as often as adults. As a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a “zero tolerance” policy for underage drivers who have consumed alcohol (8). If any alcohol is found in the blood, a minor will be found guilty of driving under the influence (6).