Saturday, September 21, 2013

SATURDAY REWIND: Impaired driving, what 53 feet means

There will be increased enforcement of drunk driving laws this month and through the remainder of the year. It is an act of courage on behalf of law enforcement, with many officers waging a never-ending and usually dangerous battle of tagging intoxicated drivers.  The following article from the alcohol research news archive demonstrates what a couple of drinks means to avoiding collisions.

Most alcohologists prefer the term “Operating While Impaired” over “Drunk Driving” because often drinkers don’t feel drunk, but they are impaired. No distinction is ever assessed whether the driver is an alcohol abuser or has the disease of alcoholism: If you are impaired, you are under arrest.
Drunk or buzzed driving is the act of operating or driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs while motor skills are impaired. In the United States, the point of impairment is pegged at .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). However, studies have demonstrated that motor-skill impairment begins at much lower BACs. Reaction time is 1/5 of a second for an unimpaired driver. With alcohol in the system, reaction time is slowed to 4/5 of a second at .06 BAC. At 60 mph, a second means 88 feet. A fifth of a second is 17.5 feet, 4/5 of a second is 70.4 feet. The Jetta slamming on the brakes in front of an impaired driver is 53 feet closer, reaction-time wise, compared to an unimpaired driver.
The specific criminal offense is usually called driving under the influence (DUI), and in some states driving while intoxicated (DWI), operating while impaired (OWI), or operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI). In the United States the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 10,000 people died last year in alcohol-related collisions, representing 40 percent of total traffic deaths. One out of every 10 arrests for all crimes in the U.S. were for OWI, compared to 1.9 million such arrests during the peak year in 1983, accounting for 1 out of every 80 licensed drivers in the U.S. NHTSA is a sponsor of National Drunk and Buzzed Driving Awareness Month along with Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) and the Governors’ Highway Safety Association.
The first jurisdiction in the adopt laws against drunk driving was New York in 1910, with California and others following. Early laws simply prohibited driving while intoxicated, requiring proof of a state of intoxication with no specific definition of what level of intoxication qualified. The first generally-accepted legal BAC limit was .15. In 1938, the American Medical Association created a "Committee to Study Problems of Motor Vehicle Accidents". At the same time, the National Safety Council set up a "Committee on Tests for Intoxication". In the US, most of the laws and penalties were greatly enhanced starting in the late 1970s, and through the 1990s, largely due to pressure from groups like MADD, leading to a national standard of .08 as the definition of impairment.
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Among recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board earlier this year:  An even LOWER BAC threshold of .05.  While it has met some resistance, the NTSB this week reinforced its commitment to a lower limit for U.S. drivers.  Keep in mind, it took two decades to lower the BAC limit to .08 from .10.

Details on the third literary award for Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud, plus the new radio interview replay is available at and please read the new interview with Scott Stevens at Christoph Fisher Books.  Mr. Fisher is an acclaimed international historical fiction novelist from the UK.