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Study: Just one drink can affect a California driver’s attention

A recent study found that having even small amounts of alcohol can affect someone’s driving, especially when distractions are involved.

Many people may have the false notion that just one alcoholic drink will not affect their driving. In California, the Department of Motor Vehicles states that the legal blood alcohol concentration for most adult drivers is 0.08. It may be possible to have just one drink and not hit that limit. However, as a recent study illustrates, that does not necessarily indicate that it is safe to get behind the wheel of a vehicle.


Researchers from the University of Kentucky wanted to review how alcohol affects a driver’s concentration. They decided to place 50 drivers in a simulator to evaluate their ability to drive well, assessing factors such as steering rate, deviation in and outside a lane and speed.

Some of those drivers were given alcohol, and some received a placebo. Each participant had to complete two tests that involved a controlled drive that did not contain any distractions as well as a drive that did have distractions. According to the Daily Mail, the study’s authors wanted to use distractions that would simulate what it would be like to receive a text message while driving or to use the controls on the dashboard of the vehicle.

Key findings

The study’s results, which were published in the journal Psychopharmacology in 2015, concluded that both distractions and alcohol adversely affected a driver’s performance, which is unsurprising. However, what was notable was that having a distraction occur doubled the effects of alcohol on the driver – even when the driver had a legal blood alcohol concentration.

Why it matters

The study is an important and unfortunate reminder that no amount of alcohol is safe to consumer before trying to operate a vehicle. Though the California Office of Traffic Safety points out that the number of alcohol-related fatalities dropped from 2013 to 2014, the phenomenon increased in the actual percentage of total traffic fatalities. In 2013, alcohol was associated with 28 percent of deaths, and in 2014, it was linked to 29 percent of these fatal accidents.

Avoid the problem

Even one death is one too many, as alcohol-impaired driving is completely preventable. Experts urge drivers to do the following:

  • Abstain from alcohol entirely when planning on driving.
  • Line up a designated driver if there is the possibility of consuming alcohol.
  • Use a taxi or car service instead of driving after drinking.

Friends can also hold each other accountable by taking keys or preventing someone from driving when she or she has been drinking.

When drunk driving accidents do occur, people who suffer injuries or other losses are entitled to pursue damages from the driver. People who have questions about this topic should speak to a personal injury attorney in California.