How Does Alcohol Affect Driving Ability?

How Alcohol Affects Driving Ability

Drunk drivers and alcohol impairment
Alcohol plays a significant role in numerous serious and deadly traffic accidents in California and the entirety of the United States. In 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 13,384 lives were lost to car crashes involving alcohol. All of these alcohol-related accidents were preventable. 

Understanding the effects of alcohol consumption on driving ability is crucial for safety. As we observe Alcohol Awareness Month this April, it is important to know the risks associated with drinking and driving. If you were injured by a drunk driver, our drunk driving accident lawyer in California can help you recover compensation. Call The Law Offices of Daniel Kim at 800-719-9779 for a free consultation. 


The Impact of Alcohol Consumption in the Body

Blood alcohol content driving under the influence
Alcohol is a depressant drug that affects the central nervous system in various ways. It impairs thinking and reasoning, as well as motor skills. As a result, consuming alcohol can seriously impact a person’s ability to drive safely. 

Even a blood alcohol content (BAC) under the legal limits can affect a person’s driving and increase the risk of an accident and injury. 

These are several ways that alcohol can affect your driving skills: 

Poor Judgment and Decision-Making

Even a BAC of 0.02% can impair a driver’s ability to judge distances and speeds, increasing the likelihood of a collision. Alcohol also affects decision-making, leading to risky driving behaviors like speeding, making unsafe lane changes, or ignoring traffic signals. 

Slow Reaction Time

Alcohol slows down brain function, leading to delayed reaction time and reduced concentration. This means that alcohol-impaired drivers may not respond quickly enough to a car braking suddenly ahead of them or a pedestrian crossing the street. 

Loss of Coordination

If a driver experiences a loss of coordination, they can have difficulty steering, braking, and accelerating. Alcohol impacts your motor skills, which include eye, hand, and foot coordination. A lack of good coordination can make driving safely nearly impossible. 

Impaired Vision 

Drinking alcohol can cause blurry vision and alter your depth perception. This could lead to a serious sideswipe or rear-end accident. It also reduces the ability to focus clearly, and may result in double vision. 


Alcohol’s sedative quality increases feelings of relaxation and drowsiness, which may cause you to fall asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. When combined, a collision with one or more vehicles increases exponentially. 


Who Is Most at Risk of a Drunk Driving Accident?

Alcohol affects reduced concentration and impaired vision
According to the Alcohol Rehab Guide, the largest group at risk for drunk driving are those who binge drink or are struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This medical condition is characterized by an inability to stop or control excessive alcohol consumption. 

Additionally, teen and young drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 years old are 10 times more likely to be killed in a fatal drunk driving accident. Underage drinking and driving is a growing problem and one of the leading causes of death for teens. Studies also indicate that men are much more likely to than women. 


What Is the Legal Limit in California?

In California, driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense. The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits are strict, and penalties for DUI can include fines, license suspension, and even jail time. California has enacted zero tolerance laws aimed at teen drivers who get behind the wheel after drinking. 

The BAC limits for California drivers are as follows:

  • 0.08% or higher if you are over 21 years old
  • 0.04% or higher if you drive a vehicle that requires a commercial driver’s license (CDL) 
  • 0.04% or higher if you are driving a passenger for hire
  • 0.01% or higher if you are under 21 years old 
  • 0.01% or higher at any age if you are on DUI probation

It’s important to note that the legal limit is the maximum legal threshold, and driving with any amount of alcohol that impairs your ability to drive safely can be illegal. Most people will have a BAC of 20 to 50 mg after one standard drink.

If a police officer pulls over a driver because they suspect impaired driving, they can issue a field sobriety test and, if necessary, a breathalyzer or blood test to determine the BAC. Failure to take either test can result in serious consequences. 


Drunk Driving Statistics

Despite awareness on the dangers of drunk driving from prominent organizations like MADD and the NHTSA, drunk driving is remains one of the leading causes of traffic fatalities and injuries per year. In the United States, roughly 37 people die every day in alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes. 

About a third of all fatal crashes in the United States involve drunk drivers (with BACs of .08% or higher). On average, more than 10,000 people die every year in drunk driving crashes. 


Tips For Driving Safely 

Don't consume alcohol and drive
Being a responsible driver requires very little effort but can have a significant impact on safety for everyone on the road. Here are some tips to ensure you operate a vehicle safely and avoid an impaired driving accident: 

  • Choose a designated driver: If you plan on drinking, ask a sober driver to get you home safely.
  • Use a rideshare service: Apps like Uber and Lyft are convenient options to get home without getting behind the wheel.
  • Intervene when necessary: If you see someone attempting to drive after drinking, step in. Offer to help them find an alternative way home.
  • Report a drunk driver: If you see a drunk driver on the road, pull over or use a hands-free device to call 911. The CHP can identify the driver using the details you provide. 
  • Wear a seatbelt: Seatbelts save thousands of lives annually. Always buckle up, no matter where or how far you are going. 
  • Be aware of prescription drugs and other medication: Alcohol is not the only substance that increases the risk of a crash. Illegal drugs such as marijuana, as well as prescription and over-the-counter medication, can affect driving ability. 
  • Spread awareness: If you know someone who is struggling with alcohol abuse, encourage them to seek professional help. You can also educate them on the dangers of drinking and driving. 


Contact Our California Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer 

Drunk driving crashes in California
Driving under the influence is the epitome of a high risk, low reward situation. Alcohol and driving are a dangerous combination and lead to countless preventable deaths. 

As we promote Alcohol Awareness Month, let’s commit to making responsible choices and encouraging others to do the same. Remember, even one drink can lead to impaired driving – choose to drive sober or plan for a safe ride home. 

If you were hurt by a drunk driver, The Law Offices of Daniel Kim can help you seek the justice you deserve. We serve clients across California and maintain a 99% success rate. To schedule a free consultation, call our law firm today at (800) 719-9779 or fill out our quick online contact form