Archive for the ‘ Drunk Driving ’ Category

Strong Alcohol Policies Lower Drunk Driving Deaths

Stronger alcohol policies protect young people from dying in crashes caused by drunk driving according to researchers at Boston Medical Center. The study, which is published online in the journal Pediatrics, supports the importance of comprehensive alcohol control policies to reduce the number of young people who die in alcohol-related crashes.

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among young people in the United States. Forty percent of deadly car crashes involve a drunk driver in Massachusetts, and the state falls within the top twenty-five percent for rates of young people killed in a drunk driving crash.

“Half of all young people who die in crashes are driven by someone who has been drinking,” says lead author Scott Hadland, MD, a pediatrician at BMC and the study’s corresponding author. “But with stronger alcohol policies at the state level, we saw a significantly lower likelihood of alcohol-related deaths.”

The Alcohol Policy Environment

The study used an alcohol policy scale that assessed 29 alcohol policies across the United States, which were designed to reduce alcohol consumption or prevent impaired driving, and cross referenced them with the number of people under 21 who died in crashes involving alcohol, approximately 85,000, over the course of 13 years. States were ranked based on how restrictive their alcohol laws were, including higher alcohol taxes and zero-tolerance policies for young people drinking and driving.

“We’ve seen research that shows the relationship between specific alcohol laws and drunk driving deaths, but no one has looked at the broader picture of the policy environment in different states,” said Timothy Naimi, MD, MPH, a general internal medicine physician and alcohol epidemiologist at BMC who served as senior author of the study.

More Restrictive Laws, Fewer Deaths

Researchers found as state alcohol laws became more restrictive, the likelihood of a young person being killed in a drunk driving crash decreased and led to less alcohol consumption as a whole. Additionally, almost half of underage youth who died in alcohol-related crashes were passengers, not drivers; and about 80% of those passengers were being driven by adults aged 21 or older who had been drinking.

Most of the deadly crashes happened during the weekend, in the evening or at night. The impact of state alcohol policies on drunk driving deaths was consistent for males and females, and generally held for both drivers and passengers.

Alcohol Control Clearly Matters

“When it comes to preventing impaired driving and deaths of young people, alcohol control policies clearly matter,” says Hadland, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. “We found that those policies don’t have to necessarily be ones that prevent drunk driving, or that specifically target young people.”

“Since most young people who died as passengers in a car were driven by an adult over 21 who had been drinking, alcohol laws that prevent adult drinking are also critical,” said Naimi who is also an associate professor of medicine and public health at Boston University School of Medicine and Public Health. “We must also focus on strategies that reduce excessive drinking, rather than focusing exclusively on interventions to prevent driving among those who are already impaired.”

February 17th, 2017  in Drunk Driving No Comments »

Ignition Interlock Devices Reduce Fatal Crashes

State laws requiring ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders appear to reduce the number of fatal drunk driving crashes, a new study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Colorado School of Public Health researchers suggests.

The study — published Jan. 5 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine — found that mandatory interlock laws were associated with a seven percent decrease in the rate of fatal crashes with at least one driver with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit. The decrease translates into an estimated 1,250 prevented fatal crashes in states with mandatory interlock laws since states first started passing such laws in 1993.

An ignition interlock is an alcohol-sensing device, connected to the ignition of a vehicle, which detects alcohol in the driver’s breath. If alcohol in excess of a preset limit is detected by the sensor, the vehicle will not start. While all 50 states have some type of ignition interlock laws, 26 have mandatory laws requiring all individuals convicted of a DUI offense to use an interlock in order to drive legally, as of March 2016.

Mandatory Interlocks for All Are Most Effective

This is the first study to look at all the different types of interlock laws across all 50 states. The researchers found that interlock laws which are mandatory for all DUI offenders were much more effective than those applicable to only some offenders, such as only repeat offenders or those with a very high blood alcohol content.

In the United States in 2014, alcohol-involved fatal motor vehicle crashes caused approximately 10,000 deaths, about one-third of all motor vehicle crash deaths.

Interlock Laws Save Lives

“Our study demonstrates the value of mandatory ignition interlock laws across the United States,” says study leader Emma E. “Beth” McGinty, PhD, MS, deputy director at the Johns Hopkins Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research at the Bloomberg School. “We already know that alcohol plays a tragic role in the number of motor vehicle crash fatalities each year. Interlock laws which are mandatory for all DUI offenders save lives. ”

To estimate the effects of existing ignition interlock laws, the researchers studied the effects of interlock laws on trends in alcohol-involved fatal crashes over a 32-year period, 1982 to 2013, and controlled for other motor vehicle safety laws and trends in crashes over time. The team assessed changes in pre- and post-interlock law rates of alcohol-involved fatal crashes with crash data obtained from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), and measured them against the different categories of interlock laws: permissive (at the discretion of a judge), partial (applicable to only some DUI offenders), and mandatory for all.

More States Adopting Interlock Laws

The researchers used two measures based on FARS data: alcohol-involved fatal crashes with a driver having a blood alcohol level of 0.08–the legal limit–and a second data set with a driver with a blood alcohol level greater than 0.15.

“Until recently, there hasn’t been any evidence on whether these laws prevent alcohol-involved fatal crashes, and specifically whether mandatory/all laws are more effective than permissive and partial laws,” McGinty says. “Our study suggests that they are effective, and it’s encouraging to see more and more states moving towards this evidence-based policy change. Since 2005, we’ve seen over 20 states adopt interlock laws for all drunk-driving offenses. We’d like to see the remaining states follow suit.”

January 7th, 2017  in Drunk Driving No Comments »

Drunk, distracted drivers are double dangers

An accident waiting to happen: that’s what an intoxicated driver is whose attention is further distracted by anything from a text message to dashboard controls. Such distractions are just too much to handle safely, even for people who drive while still within the legal alcohol limits, say Nicholas van Dyke and Mark Fillmore of the University of Kentucky in the US.

Their study provides some of the first evidence on the degree to which distractions influence the ability of intoxicated drivers to safely control their vehicles. The findings are published in Springer’s journal Psychopharmacology.

Lowering the Legal BAC Limit

On average, 28 alcohol-related traffic deaths are reported per day in the US. To reduce such incidences in the future, law makers are now considering lowering the current legal limit of 0.08 percent alcohol concentration in the blood even more to 0.05 percent.

These laws, however, are based on the assumption that it is safe to drive while below the legal limit. They do not take into account how distractions can further influence an intoxicated driver’s ability to keep a vehicle on the road.

Van Dyke and Fillmore therefore tested how safely 50 adult participants could maneuver a 5.9 mile drive through a typical urban area after having a drink. A driving simulator was used. They took note of how well the drivers continuously made small adjustments to the steering wheel to keep the simulator vehicle within a designated lane, to prevent it from crossing into another or from veering onto the edge of the road.

Impaired Even After One Drink

During some of these 6-minute tests, the drivers also had to respond to small red circles appearing on the windshield of the simulator. According to the researchers, the simple distraction task was not any more difficult than what drivers encounter on a daily basis while tending to text messages and the numerous and increasingly complex dashboard controls of modern vehicles.

When tested separately, alcohol and distractions both impaired the key aspects of driving performance, such as within-line deviations, steering rate and lane exceedance. The magnitude to which alcohol impaired safe driving was increased two-fold when a driver also had to deal with distractions. This was evident even at blood alcohol levels below the current legal limit for driving in the US.

More Technology, More Distractions

“With continuing advancements in technology and the omnipresence of distractions while driving, it is becoming increasingly important to study the interaction between alcohol and distraction on driving,” van Dyke points out.

Fillmore adds, “a clearer understanding of how common distractions impact intoxicated drivers, especially at blood alcohol concentrations that are currently legal for driving in the United States, is an important step to reducing traffic accidents and fatalities and improving overall traffic safety.”

September 24th, 2015  in Drunk Driving No Comments »

Government Urges ‘No Refusal’ DUI Strategy

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today kicked off the annual “Drunk Driving. Over The Limit. Under Arrest” winter holiday crackdown involving thousands of law enforcement agencies across the nation. Secretary LaHood also highlighted the new “No Refusal” strategy that a number of states are employing to put a stop to drunk driving.

Through the “No Refusal” strategy, law enforcement officers are able to quickly obtain warrants from “on call” judges in order to take blood samples from suspected drunk drivers who refuse a breathalyzer test.

Closing the DUI Loopholes

“Drunk driving remains a leading cause of death and injury on our roadways,” said Secretary LaHood. “I applaud the efforts of the law enforcement officials who have pioneered the ‘No Refusal’ approach to get drunk drivers off our roads. And I urge other states to adopt this approach to make sure that drunk drivers can’t skirt the law and are held accountable.”

According to DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in many states, a large proportion of people pulled over for DUIs refuse to take an alcohol breathalyzer test. The latest data show that the states with the highest refusal rates included New Hampshire at 81 percent; Massachusetts at 41 percent; Florida at 40 percent; Louisiana at 39 percent and Ohio at 38 percent. States that have adopted “No Refusal” programs report more guilty pleas, fewer trials and more convictions.

“MADD is proud to support NHTSA, as well as our heroes in law enforcement, in their focus on ‘No Refusals,’ said MADD National President Laura Dean-Mooney. “Working together, we can make our roadways safer and eliminate drunk driving in the U.S.”

No Refusal Stops Drunk Drivers

Secretary LaHood was joined for the announcement by NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, MADD President Laura Dean-Mooney, as well as Warren Diepraam, an Assistant District Attorney in Texas who is a leading advocate of the “No Refusal” strategy. Lafourche Parrish Sheriff Craig Webre, who instituted a “No Refusal” policy in Thibodaux, Louisiana, was also on hand to share his experiences. The officials strongly endorsed the “No Refusal” initiative and applauded states already employing this strategy to get drunk drivers off of their roads, including Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Utah, Idaho, and Arizona.

“When it comes to drunk driving, we cannot afford to have repeat offenders,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “The ‘No Refusal’ strategy helps support prosecutions and improves deterrence, which means fewer drunk drivers on the road. I want to remind everyone this holiday season: if you’re over the limit, you’re under arrest. So please, for safety’s sake, find a designated driver or take a taxi if you are under the influence.”

December 14th, 2010  in Drunk Driving No Comments »

40 Million Impaired Drivers on the Road

A new survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that on average 13.2 percent of all persons 16 or older drove under the influence of alcohol and 4.3 percent of this age group drove under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year.

The survey’s state-by-state breakdown of drunk and drugged driving levels shows significant differences among the states. Some of the states with the highest levels of past year drunk driving were Wisconsin (23.7 percent) and North Dakota (22.4 percent). The highest rates of past year drugged driving were found in Rhode Island (7.8 percent) and Vermont (6.6 percent).

More Younger Drivers Impaired

States with the lowest rates of past year drunk driving included Utah (7.4 percent) and Mississippi (8.7 percent). Iowa and New Jersey had the lowest levels of past year drugged driving (2.9 percent and 3.2 percent respectively).

Levels of self-reported drunk and drugged driving differed dramatically among age groups. Younger drivers aged 16 to 25 had a much higher rate of drunk driving than those aged 26 or older (19.5 percent versus 11.8 percent). Similarly people aged 16 to 25 had a much higher rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs than those aged 26 or older (11.4 percent versus 2.8 percent).

The one bright spot in the survey is that there has been a reduction in the rate of drunk and drugged driving in the past few years. Survey data from 2002 through 2005 combined when compared to data gathered from 2006 to 2009 combined indicate that the average yearly rate of drunk driving has declined from 14.6 percent to 13.2 percent, while the average yearly rate of drugged driving has decreased from 4.8 percent to 4.3 percent. Twelve states have seen reductions in the levels of drunk driving and seven states have experienced lower levels of drugged driving. However according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) census, one in three motor vehicle fatalities (33 percent) with known drug test results tested positive for drugs in 2009.

Dangerous Drunk Driving

“Thousands of people die each year as a result of drunk and drugged driving, and the lives of thousands of family members and friends left behind are forever scarred,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “Some progress has been made in reducing the levels of drunk and drugged driving through education, enhanced law enforcement and public outreach efforts. However, the nation must continue to work to prevent this menace and confront these dangerous drivers in an aggressive way.”

“While we have understood for some time the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol, much less is known or discussed about drivers under the influence of other drugs,” said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy. “This new data adds to other emerging research revealing that there is an alarmingly high percentage of Americans on our roadways with drugs in their system. At a time when drug use is on the rise, it is crucial that communities act today to address the threat of drugged driving as we work to employ more targeted enforcement and develop better tools to detect the presence of drugs among drivers.”

December 13th, 2010  in Drunk Driving No Comments »

Just 2 drinks slow reactions in older people

Blood alcohol levels below the current legal limit for driving have a significant negative effect on a person’s dexterity. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Research Notes found that just two single vodka and orange drinks were enough to make senior volunteers struggle at an obstacle avoidance test while walking.

Judith Hegeman worked with a team of researchers from Sint Maartenskliniek, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, to carry out the tests in 13 healthy men and women (average age 61.5yrs or 62yrs). She said, “The results clearly show that even with low blood alcohol concentrations, reactions to sudden gait perturbations are seriously affected. After ingestion of 2 alcoholic drinks, obstacles were hit twice as often, response times were delayed and response amplitudes were reduced. These changes were most obvious in situations with little available response time.”

Hampered Ability

To carry out the test, the volunteers first started to walk on a treadmill. Once they had attained a steady walking pace, a thin wooden block was placed at the far end of the belt and allowed to move towards the volunteer. Hegeman and her colleagues measured the effects of alcohol on how capable the subjects were of stepping over this obstacle.

She said, “We found that alcohol levels, considered to be safe for driving, seriously hamper the ability to successfully avoid sudden obstacles in the travel path. A possible limitation of this study is the relatively small sample size, however even with the small number, it yielded an unequivocal outcome.”

November 8th, 2010  in Alcohol, Drunk Driving No Comments »

Just 2 drinks slow reactions in older people

Blood alcohol levels below the current legal limit for driving have a significant negative effect on a person’s dexterity. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Research Notes found that just two single vodka and orange drinks were enough to make senior volunteers struggle at an obstacle avoidance test while walking.

Judith Hegeman worked with a team of researchers from Sint Maartenskliniek, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, to carry out the tests in 13 healthy men and women (average age 61.5yrs or 62yrs). She said, “The results clearly show that even with low blood alcohol concentrations, reactions to sudden gait perturbations are seriously affected. After ingestion of 2 alcoholic drinks, obstacles were hit twice as often, response times were delayed and response amplitudes were reduced. These changes were most obvious in situations with little available response time.”

Alcohol Hampers Reaction Times

To carry out the test, the volunteers first started to walk on a treadmill. Once they had attained a steady walking pace, a thin wooden block was placed at the far end of the belt and allowed to move towards the volunteer. Hegeman and her colleagues measured the effects of alcohol on how capable the subjects were of stepping over this obstacle.

She said, “We found that alcohol levels, considered to be safe for driving, seriously hamper the ability to successfully avoid sudden obstacles in the travel path. A possible limitation of this study is the relatively small sample size, however even with the small number, it yielded an unequivocal outcome.”

September 23rd, 2010  in Alcohol, Drunk Driving No Comments »

Drivers who delay license reinstatement are often high risk

Driver’s license suspension has become the most widely used as well as effective method for incapacitating individuals who have been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). A new study has found that encouraging license reinstatement with continued controls, such as interlocks as a condition of reinstatement, may be effective as long as they do not extend delays.

Results will be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

Driver’s License Suspension Reduces Recifivism

“Suspension of driving privileges is the major standard sanction for an impaired driving offense in the western world,” explained Robert B. Voas, senior scientist and director of the Impaired Driving Center at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE). “Jail is used in most countries for multiple offenders and problem cases such as involvement in a crash causing injuries. But jail terms are generally too short to significantly reduce the risk the driver presents to the driving public. Research clearly shows that suspension reduces recidivism when compared to not suspending the offender, but it is far from a perfect system since studies show that up to 75 percent of offenders report illicit driving.”

“The value of the sanction partly depends on drivers regarding a proper driving license as having great value,” observed Paul R. Marques, senior research scientist with the Impaired Driving Center at PIRE. “Unfortunately it seems in recent years there are many more drivers who find the benefit of driving unlicensed to be an acceptable low-risk thing to do, probably because the perceived risk of consequences is small. This becomes a public danger for several reasons, not least of which is that an unlicensed driver is usually an uninsured driver. If we cannot adequately enforce license suspension, and if drivers do not feel threatened by loss of their licenses, then suspension cannot serve its intended purpose of restricting road use to those who abide by the laws.”

Researchers analyzed the driving records of 40 million drivers – three million of whom were convicted of DUI – from seven of the largest U.S. states during a seven-to14-year period of time.

“We found that 50 percent of second offenders delay reinstating for more than a year,” said Voas. “Those that delay have higher recidivism rates after they are reinstated, suggesting – but not demonstrated in this study – that they will have higher crash rates. Additionally, one third of second offenders will never reinstate.”

Alcohol-Involved Driving

“Maybe the single most interesting finding from this study is the relationship between risk indicators of impaired driving and the longer time delay in reinstatement after becoming eligible to reinstate,” said Marques. “Drivers with more alcohol citations are less likely to reinstate promptly when eligible. What can we do to reduce the risk these drivers pose to the average road user? We need to either substantially increase monitoring and enforcement, and/or use other ways to control alcohol-involved driving.”

Who are the DUI offenders who delay reinstatement after they become eligible? “It is probable that those who delay may do so because they have not satisfied other requirements such as attending and completing treatment, paying their fine, or meeting with their probation officer,” said Voas. “Research suggests that failure to meet these responsibilities is an indication that they are more likely to resist conforming to rules and regulations generally, including traffic laws. They may also have more serious drinking problems which make it less likely that they can separate their drinking from their driving.”

“The delay in reinstatement is also correlated with having had more prior DUI convictions – multiple offenders are more likely to delay than first-time offenders – and those with more prior convictions generally have more future convictions,” added Marques. “But also, there are usually more conditions placed on reinstatement for those perceived as having higher risk. There may be a break point where some offenders just do not want to bother with the burden of proper relicensing. We should not be making the relicensing process so onerous that we force people out of compliance with the laws.”

Conversely, who are the DUI offenders who do reinstate? “Conforming to the requirements imposed by the courts and motor vehicle departments in a timely manner suggest that these individuals have taken advantage of treatment and other intervention programs provided by the state and have better control over their own behavior,” said Voas. “The fact that first offenders, who have fewer drinking problems, are less likely than multiple offenders to delay suggests that the level of the offenders’ drinking problem plays a role.”

Driving While Suspended

People have different reasons to conform, observed Marques. “If you have a certain satisfaction with your life and want to retain privileges, conveniences, and fulfill responsibilities, then meeting the administrative and legal expectations around reinstatement is a no-brainer,” he said. “Simply enough, those more invested in social norms are more apt to do things that are normative. For those who are more marginalized, whether through choice, income or opportunity, the risk-benefit ratio of either not relicensing, or choosing to drive while suspended, will be different.”

“Our findings suggest that more attention should be given to DUI sanctions that maintain contact with the offender following reinstatement such as vehicle alcohol interlocks,” said Voas. “The results also suggest that offenders who have delayed several months beyond their nominal reinstatement date might be reminded of the importance of reinstating, and of the sanctions for illicit driving.”

“Our roadways are the national commons,” added Marques. “It is silly to imagine that we can bring DUI behavior under control just by making laws that are more punitive or restrictive. The evidence developed by Voas and colleagues provides an estimate of problem magnitude and should ideally form the basis for policy innovations.”

May 5th, 2010  in Drunk Driving No Comments »

Alcohol, Energy Drinks Add Up to Higher Intoxication Levels

Energy drinks, favored among young people for the beverages’ caffeine jolt, also play a lead role in several popular alcoholic drinks, such as Red Bull and vodka. But combining alcohol and energy drinks may create a dangerous mix, according to University of Florida research.

In a study of college-aged adults exiting bars, patrons who consumed energy drinks mixed with alcohol had a threefold increased risk of leaving a bar highly intoxicated and were four times more likely to intend to drive after drinking than bar patrons who drank alcohol only.

Eliminates Sedating Effects of Alcohol

The study appears in the April issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors.

“Previous laboratory research suggests that when caffeine is mixed with alcohol it overcomes the sedating effects of alcohol and people may perceive that they are less intoxicated than they really are,” said the study’s lead researcher Dennis Thombs, an associate professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of behavioral science and community health. “This may lead people to drink more or make uninformed judgments about whether they are safe to drive.”

Experts believe that among college drinkers, as many as 28 percent consume alcohol mixed with energy drinks in a typical month.

The UF study is the first of its kind to evaluate the effects of alcohol mixed with energy drinks in an actual drinking environment, that is, at night outside bars. Research on college student alcohol use in campus communities has traditionally relied on self-report questionnaires administered to sober students in daytime settings, Thombs said.

Data for the UF study were collected in 2008 from more than 800 randomly selected patrons exiting establishments in a college bar district between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with participants to gather demographic information and details on participants’ energy drink consumption and drinking behavior. Participants also completed self-administered questionnaires that asked
about their drinking history and intention to drive that night. Next, researchers tested participants’ breath alcohol concentration levels. Participants received feedback on their intoxication levels and advice about driving risk.

Wide Awake Drunks

Bar patrons who reported drinking alcohol mixed with energy drinks — 6.5 percent of study participants — were three times more likely to be intoxicated than drinkers who consumed alcohol only. The average breath-alcohol concentration reading for those who mixed alcohol and energy drinks was 0.109, well above the legal driving limit of 0.08. Consumers of energy drink cocktails also left bars later at night, drank for longer periods of time, ingested more grams of ethanol and were four times more likely to express an intention to drive within the hour than patrons who drank alcohol only.

Consumers of alcohol mixed with energy drinks may drink more and misjudge their capabilities because caffeine diminishes the sleepy feeling most people experience as they become intoxicated. It’s a condition commonly described as “wide awake and drunk,” said study co-author Bruce Goldberger, a professor and director of toxicology in the UF College of Medicine.

“There’s a very common misconception that if you drink caffeine with an alcoholic beverage the stimulant effect of the caffeine counteracts the depressant effect of the alcohol and that is not true,” Goldberger said. “We know that caffeine aggravates the degree of intoxication, which can lead to risky behaviors.”

The study, funded by the University of Florida Office of the President, raises a lot of questions and suggests topics for future research, Thombs said.

Unsafe Levels of Caffeine?

“This study demonstrates that there definitely is reason for concern and more research is needed,” he said. “We don’t know what self-administered caffeine levels bar patrons are reaching, what are safe and unsafe levels of caffeine and what regulations or policies should be implemented to better protect bar patrons or consumers in general.”

Thombs’ study is a very valuable addition to the existing body of research on the association of energy drink consumption and alcohol-related consequences, said Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien, an associate professor of emergency medicine and public health sciences at Wake Forest University who has studied the relationship between energy drink cocktails and high-risk behavior.

“His approach is unique because it was conducted in a natural drinking environment — college bars,” O’Brien said. “His results clearly support the serious concern raised by previous research, that subjective drunkenness may be reduced by the concurrent ingestion of caffeinated energy drinks, increasing both the likelihood of further alcohol consumption, and of driving when intoxicated.”

February 22nd, 2010  in Alcohol, Drunk Driving No Comments »