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Impact of Alcohol on Driving Ability (Penalties for DUI in the US)

Alcohol Driving Ability

In the song “In the Summertime” Mungo Jerry sang, “Have a drink, have a drive, go out and see what you can find” without the slightest hint of irony or mischief. It was 1970—a different time, as they say. Drink driving was not exactly common, but it was far from rare and the laws had yet to really clamp down on drivers who had a skinful beforehand. In those days the cars weren’t as safe, but the roads weren’t as busy and, quite frankly, the public just wasn’t as aware.

It’s a different story now, thankfully, but there are still those who believe that they are okay to drink when they drive. If you visit you’re local pub and talk to the regulars you’ll find at least one or two that thinks the laws are too strict. Some even think they drive better when drunk. This is obviously absurd and since those “anything goes” days of the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of research has been conducted to prove this.

Reaction Time

One of the main reasons why it is so dangerous to get behind the wheel after you’ve consumed alcohol, is because it drastically reduces reaction time. The more you drink, the less effective those reactions are and this can be deadly when you’re driving a vehicle. If a car brakes suddenly in front of you, a child or animal runs out into the middle of the road, or you lose control on slippery tarmac, then you may not be able to react in time.

You are also at a severe disadvantage because your ability to make quick, smart decisions reduces with your reaction time. You are more susceptible to letting impulses take over, which can lead to fatal mistakes being made.

A report on the Effects of Low Doses of Alcohol on Driving Skill pointed to this reduced reaction time as one of the major reasons why even the smallest amount of alcohol can lead to an increased chance of traffic accidents and fatalities. Simply put, alcohol is a depressant that works by dampening your central nervous system. If you have drunk enough to feel its effects then you have drunk enough to put yourself and others at risk when you are behind the wheel.

That’s where the blood alcohol level come into it, because obviously not everyone has the same tolerance and an amount that causes one person to feel tipsy may not be felt by another person.



Alcohol can reduce your ability to judge where the car is on the road. That’s why drunk drivers tend to waver in and out of the lines. You’d think it would be easy enough to drive in a straight line and for someone who hasn’t consumed alcohol it is, but under the influence of this substance that ability dissipates and the reckless wavering begins.


Before the advent of the breathalyzer, police officers at the roadside would run sobriety checks that involved walking in a straight line, standing on one leg, placing a finger on the tip of the nose, etc., This was all done to check coordination, because this is something that alcohol can impact quite strongly.

The reason this is so dangerous behind the wheel is because coordination is needed to work the pedals, the wheel and the clutch. This becomes even more of an issue when you consider that a drunk person’s attention and concentration is not as high as a sober person’s. If you’re sober and you’re distracted in the car you can still work the wheel and the pedals. You do it almost instinctively. If you’re drunk that ceases to be the case and it becomes very easy to lose control of the wheel or to drive too quickly or too slowly.


Finally, and just as importantly, alcohol can cause blurred vision, which hinders a driver’s ability to see the road, the other cars and any dangers that present themselves. They are also more prone to missing warning signs and speed signs, both because they lack the awareness needed to take in everything in their field of vision, and because their eyes can’t focus very quickly or very well. You wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car when you’re very tired and you’re not wearing your glasses, and it’s pretty much the same as getting behind the wheel after you’ve had a few drinks.

DUI Penalties and Sentences in the US

Obviously anyone who gets behind the wheel when they are very drunk is putting themselves and others at serious risk and is therefore willingly and knowingly committing a potentially dangerous crime. As a result, you won’t get much sympathy from the courts if you are caught in the act.

However, not all causes of DUI/DWI are down to reckless abandon on behalf of the driver. If someone with a very low tolerance consumes a very small amount it might put them over the limit without them knowing. If someone drinks the night before and then drives in the morning they might not think anything of it, but the blood alcohol level could still be high enough to put them over.

The best way to avoid this, obviously, is to make sure you don’t get behind the wheel when you’re not sober, but if you do find yourself in such a precarious situation there are things that you can do to help. For one, you should check to see if your insurance covers you. You’ll need to get SR22 insurance to cover you if you have been caught in situations like this, and you should also make sure you insist on an attorney if you are arrested.

People make mistakes and providing you show remorse, you have valid reason and your blood alcohol wasn’t too high, then these mistakes may result in minimal sentencing. However, it’s worth noting that you can face a fine of as much as $2,500 and as long as a year in jail for drunk driving in the US, and that’s only if you don’t cause any harm to life or property.

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