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Sober Enough to Drive?

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It could be a couple of glasses of wine at dinner, a few beers catching up with friends, or a bartender with a heavy pour before your speech becomes slurred, your short-term memory suffers, and your reaction time slows. It could slow just enough to miss hitting the brakes by a fraction of a second. Crash.

Every day in the United States, 28 people die in a car crash that involves an alcohol-impaired driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That is one person every 53 minutes, 196 people a week, roughly 840 people a month, and possibly over 10,000 people a year.

The legal alcohol limit in most states, 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC), can be reached in as little as three alcoholic beverages for some people, according to this chart. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that it takes an average of four drinks to arrive at a 0.08 percent.

To be clear, we’re not talking about four mixed drinks all downed while dancing in a nightclub for an hour. We’re going to show you how the estimated numbers play out by age and gender based on survey results of over 1,000 people. Who admits to driving drunk? Who says they would do it again? Who is most likely to call for a ride? Who would let a friend drive drunk? Would you?

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When the weekend comes along, it’s time to let loose. This chart breaks down the differences between men’s and women’s BAC levels on the weekends and during the week, and by age.

Though men indulge more than women both during the week and on the weekends, both genders see an uptick in alcohol consumption on Saturday and Sunday. Both men’s and women’s BAC levels nearly double come week’s end.

Men go from a BAC level of about 0.015 percent to about 0.043 percent on the weekends, which is more than double that of the week’s BAC levels. Women, on the other hand, start with a slightly lower BAC during the week, at around a 0.014 percent, and increase to about 0.038 percent. Again, the weekend average BAC level is more than double that of the week’s average, but women are showing a trend of consuming less alcohol overall.

When looking at the breakdown by age, of the 1,000 surveyed, people in their early- to mid-20s tended to have the highest BAC levels on the weekends, as indicated by the number of red circles above the 0.08 percent line. The number over the legal limit begins to taper off dramatically around the mid-30s.

According to the NHTSA, drivers aged 21 to 34 accounted for 59 percent of total drunk drivers in 2014 overall. This statistic falls in line with the graph above, stating that weekend BAC levels tend to be highest in those in that age range. After age 34, weekend BAC levels above the legal limit tend to be more of a rarity.

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A glance at this chart will show that men tend to think they have the upper hand where alcohol consumption is concerned. Though the CDC sites that, on average, four drinks is the maximum for most people before a 0.08 percent BAC is present, 0.2 percent of the surveyed men said they felt they could have an astounding 14 drinks in one hour and still drive.

The most drinks women believed they could have before turning over their keys were five, with less than 1 percent citing that number.

However, the most common answer for both men and women was one drink, with more than 50 percent of women saying one drink was acceptable and 23 percent of men agreeing.

More women than men found that the only acceptable amount of drinks one could have within an hour before driving was 0. Though the percentages remain small, with women at just 9.27 percent and men at 4.12 percent, nearly twice the number of women responded with the answer 0 than men.

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Here’s how the demographics of the previous graph shake out. Age definitely appears to be a factor in drinking and driving, as 12 percent of millennials said they believed they could drink more than the legal limit and still drive.

Generation X respondents made up 6 percent of those with answers over the legal limit, and baby boomers accounted for only 3 percent.

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Between the genders, more men have driven drunk without regret. According to the chart, 8 percent of men surveyed said that they had driven drunk and didn’t regret it, compared with 4 percent of women who said the same.

However, 50 percent of the men surveyed said they had driven drunk and regretted it, while 46 percent of women agreed.

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Nearly half of the people who admitted to driving drunk, 46 percent, said that they drove while under the influence because they believed they wouldn’t be caught. However, the largest portion of people, 74 percent said they drove because they felt they were sober enough.

Not everyone who drove while under the influence of alcohol was trying to get home. A quarter of the people who admitted to driving drunk said they were driving to another place to drink more and 17 percent were driving to a liquor store to buy more alcohol. However, most people, 94 percent, said they were heading home.

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There is, of course, another option if you’re out drinking: you can call a ride. This graph breaks down the use of ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft by gender and BAC.

According to the graph, men are more likely than women to use a ride-share. Roughly 43 percent of men called for a ride, while only 38 percent of women called for one.

Almost 70 percent of men said that they called a ride-share service because a friend made them, while only 30 percent of women reported the same reason. However, 34 percent of women responded that they called a ride-share because they were too drunk to get to their destination, while that was the reason for almost 63 percent of men.

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More men reported that they would let a friend drive drunk – to avoid a serious argument – than women. Nearly 20 percent of men surveyed said they would allow their friend to drink and drive, as opposed to 7 percent of women who said they’d let a friend out on the road.

The reasons for allowing a friend to drive drunk may astound you. Of the men and women surveyed, 40 percent said that they would let their friend drive drunk because they knew that he or she had done it previously and been all right. Nearly 30 percent cited that they didn’t think their friend would get caught. Both answers neglect the fact that it is both dangerous and illegal to drive drunk.

However, the overwhelming majority, 67 percent, said they believed the driver was capable of driving and 34 percent stated they did not know their friend was drunk at the time. These two answers can be symptomatic of not understanding how alcohol can affect the body or just how quickly someone can arrive at the legal limit of 0.08 percent – impairing senses and leading to dangerous driving conditions.

In fact, reaching the legal alcohol limit isn’t hard to do, and people often get behind the wheel while intoxicated without knowing the harm it may cause. Thousands of people die in the United States every year due to accidents that involve a drunk driver. Understanding how easy it is to reach the legal BAC limit and having the statistics laid out in front of you can be tools to help you prevent another drunk driving accident. The hope is that you will be able to better inform yourself before getting behind the wheel after drinking.

The only way to sober up is time, and the only way to prevent drunk driving is by not doing it. So next time you’re out drinking, call a ride-share service, call a friend, or keep the drinking to a minimum because you could be saving someone’s life – or your own.

Methodology

We surveyed over 1,000 Americans to ask them about their drinking habits and when they would feel OK driving. We provided the following definition from the CDC as the standard number of drinks: “A standard drink is 14 grams of pure alcohol. That translates to 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces (one shot) of distilled spirits or liquor, e.g. gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey.” Then we asked respondents to provide their height, weight, and gender.

From there, we calculated each respondent’s estimated BACs with the Widmark Formula, using the number of standard drinks they estimated being OK with having in different situations. Respondents self-identified as drunk in any situation in which they were asked about driving drunk.

Weeknight BACs were calculated assuming drinks were consumed over a two-hour period, while weekend BACs were calculated assuming drinks were consumed over a three-hour period.

Fair Use

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