Even half a drink can increase crash risk, study shows

In New York, as in other states, the law prohibits driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or above - and for good reason. According to statistics cited by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, a driver with a BAC of 0.08 is four times more likely to cause a traffic accident than a sober driver. However, a recent study shows that even at BAC levels well below the legal limit for drunk driving, alcohol consumption in any amount can substantially increase the risk of causing a crash.

To determine the extent to which below-the-limit BAC levels affect crash risks, researchers from the University of California San Diego examined the records of more than 500,000 fatal traffic accidents involving a driver with a BAC between 0.01 and 0.07. Their analysis revealed that a BAC of just 0.01 makes a driver nearly 50 percent more likely to cause a fatal crash than someone who has not consumed any alcohol. An average adult male can reach a 0.01 BAC level by consuming just half of a standard drink - the equivalent of six ounces of beer or 2.5 ounces of wine.

Crash risk correlates with BAC at any level

The research also showed that the likelihood of causing a crash increases steadily as a driver's BAC level rises, suggesting that there is no true "cutoff" between safe and unsafe levels of alcohol consumption. In other words, while driving with a BAC of 0.07 is not necessarily illegal, it is only slightly less dangerous than driving with a BAC of 0.08.

At levels above the legal threshold, the likelihood of causing a crash continues to rise. For instance, a driver with a BAC of 0.016 - twice the legal limit - is 25 times more likely to cause a crash than a completely sober driver. With this in mind, it is no surprise that drivers with very high BAC levels are responsible for a majority of fatal drunk driving accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seven out of 10 drunk driving fatalities involve at least one driver whose BAC is 0.15 or above.

Get help from a lawyer after a drunk driving crash

People who are harmed by drunk drivers in New York have a right to seek compensation through the civil court system, regardless of whether the at-fault driver has been convicted of a crime. To learn about your rights and legal options if you or a family member has been hurt in a drunk driving crash in New York, get in touch with an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area.