Study: Even mild levels of intoxication may impair older drivers

A study suggests that drivers over age 55 are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol and may show performance impairments even at legal BAC levels.

From 2002 to 2012, drunk driving fatalities in Connecticut fell by 25.4 percent, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. Stronger state laws and better understanding of the risks of drinking and driving are likely responsible for reducing the state's fatal DUI accident rate. Unfortunately, some widespread misconceptions may still put Stratford drivers in danger.

One of these misunderstandings is the belief that driving after consuming moderate amounts of alcohol is safe. Many drivers may think the legal limit represents a meaningful distinction between sobriety and impairment. However, research indicates this is not the case, especially for older drivers.

Observable impairment among older drivers

A University of Florida study published in spring 2014 found that drivers who are older than 55 show performance impairments even at a legal BAC level, according to Minn Post. The study included 36 drivers between ages 55 and 70, along with 36 drivers between ages 25 and 35, who were asked to perform a simulation.

Researchers observed three aspects of driving performance: holding a steady travel speed, keeping the car centered within its lane and steering appropriately through curves. Each participant performed the study once while sober and once after consuming a beverage, which either contained alcohol or was an alcohol-free placebo.

Researchers did not observe notable performance impairments among the younger participants, but the older drivers had trouble steering and controlling their speed. This is troubling in light of the following facts:

  • All of the participants had BAC levels that were below the legal limit. Each cocktail was designed to bring the participant's BAC to .04 or .065 percent, and researchers controlled for factors such as body weight.
  • Unfamiliarity with alcohol and its effects was likely not a factor in driving performance. Every participant was a self-described "moderate" social drinker.
  • The simulation was significantly simpler than real-life driving. Participants only had to navigate a winding road, and they faced few distractions aside from the rare appearance of vehicles in the other lane.

The study results suggest that the body's tolerance for alcohol changes significantly over time, and many older drivers may endanger others when they think they are behaving responsibly by limiting their drinking before driving.

Accidents involving low levels of impairment

Research also indicates that low levels of impairment may be dangerous among drivers of any age. According to NBC News, a University of San Diego study that reviewed 570,731 fatal accidents found that even a BAC of .01 percent appeared to raise a driver's accident risk. These minimally drunk drivers were 46 percent more likely to be deemed solely responsible for accidents in the official accident reports.

If a driver causes an accident while impaired, he or she may be held responsible for any resulting injuries and other harm. A driver whose BAC is below the legal limit may still be found negligent if the driver's impairment caused the accident.

Anyone who has been hurt in an accident that an impaired driver caused should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss the possibility of pursuing compensation.

Keywords: drunk driving, accident, injury