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Updated on August 9, 2022

What Is Drinking and Driving (DUI)?

Not only are there legal consequences for drunk driving, but you can injure yourself and others. Accidents involving drinking over the legal BAC can end in death.

In the U.S., almost 30 people die in drunk driving-related accidents every day.1

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Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Levels & Driving Effects

.02 BAC 

.02 is the lowest level of measurable intoxication. A person may feel happy and relaxed, but they are likely to make poor decisions.

.04 BAC

At a .04 BAC, a person can lose control of small muscles, including focus. Judgment is also impaired. Inhibitions lower, and the ability to respond to situations, such as unexpected vehicles or objects on the road, becomes more difficult.

.08 BAC

Other than the state of Utah, .08 BAC is the legal driving limit in the U.S. It is illegal and unsafe to drive at this percentage.

A person at this level experiences a loss of coordination, impaired balance, and problems focusing. Inhibitions are also lowered, so risky behaviors are more common. 

0.10 BAC 

At .10 BAC, words become slurred. Thinking and reasoning skills are impaired. Thinking, walking, and talking are difficult. Vomiting can occur.

0.15 BAC 

A person is 380 times more likely to be in a fatal crash at .15 BAC than when sober. The drinker will be sloppy, have difficulty standing up, may become dizzy, and begin to vomit.

Many social drinkers will pass out at this level. Some will pass out behind the wheel.

0.20 BAC

Operating a vehicle while under this level of BAC is incredibly dangerous. At .20 BAC, a person's sense of reality is skewed.

People at this level may think they are driving a vehicle correctly. In reality, they are swerving, weaving, running red lights, and having trouble staying on the road. 

The person may also be “blackout drunk” at this BAC level. This is when the drinker does things they do not remember. 

0.25 - 0.30 BAC 

Severe intoxication occurs at this point. This person will likely experience:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Irregular breathing
  • Mental confusion
  • Dysphoria
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting.

Serious accidents, which include paralysis, brain damage, disfigurement, or even manslaughter, can result. 

0.35 - 0.40 BAC 

Between .35 and .40 BAC, the person will experience a loss of consciousness and may slip into a coma. 

0.40+ BAC 

.40 BAC results in coma. There is a high chance that death will occur due to respiratory failure. 

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Dangers & Risks of Drunk Driving

Drunk driving is extremely dangerous. Not only to the driver, but also to those on the road around the driver operating the vehicle. 

The risks of drunk driving and DUIs include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical and mental impairment: Drinking before driving can severely impair the driver's physical and mental reactions. 
  • Slow reaction time: Drinking relaxes the muscles and creates a delayed response in the brain, slowing down the drinker's reaction time. 
  • Poor coordination: A person affected by alcohol will begin slurring their words and unable to keep liquids or food inside their mouth. Their balance also becomes compromised.
  • Poor vision: A drinker's vision becomes increasingly blurry with each additional drink. Drinkers can experience ripple vision and the inability to focus. "Drunk Goggles" is a term referring to a drinker's depth perception issues after drinking.
  • Poor concentration: Drinking can severely impair the driver’s ability to understand traffic signs and signals, and stay in road lanes.
  • Poor depth perception: The drinker will experience a minimal field of vision. They will not be able to see how far or how close objects and people are in relation to the vehicle.

Types of DUIs

DUIs refer to citations issued by law enforcement to those drinking and driving over the legal limit. In most states, there are seven different types of DUIs.

  1. DUI per se: Per Se means as is. DUI per se is when a driver has a BAC of 0.08 or higher while operating a motor vehicle.
  1. DUI less safe: DUI laws are complex, and a person/drinker can be charged with a DUI Less Safe even if their BAC levels are under 0.08. This charge is when the driver may have ingested or inhaled other substances that, combined with alcohol, impair the driver even if the alcohol levels are below 0.08 BAC. A DUI less safe is charged if the driver refuses to take a BAC test.
  1. OWI/OUI/DWI: Some states like Iowa, Michigan, or Mane have a lesser offense than DUI Less Safe called an OWI/OUI/DWI. OWI/OUI stands for Operating While Impaired/Intoxicated, Operating Under the Influence, or Driving While Impaired. These are the different states' ways of defining the different types of DUI Less Safe. 
  1. DUI drugs: This is when a driver is operating a vehicle under some other substance besides alcohol. DUI Drugs charges could be brought against the driver if they have abused prescription drugs, used marijuana, or are high on methamphetamines
  1. DUI inhalants: This DUI refers to when a driver has intentionally inhaled and is under the influence of any aerosol, glue, or other possibly toxic vapor to the extent that it is not safe for the person to be operating a vehicle.
  1. DUI multiple substances: A DUI Multiple Substances is when a driver is under the influence of two or more substances or a combination of drugs, alcohol, and inhalants.
  1. DUI marijuana/controlled substance: This is a DUI given to a driver or person operating a vehicle under the influence of a controlled substance like Marijuana or opioid-based pain killers and psychotropics like Xanax.

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Risks of Driving Under the Influence

Risks of DUIs include:

  • Expensive: Going to court, as well as repairing damages to property or paying for injuries to involved parties, can be incredibly expensive, with or without insurance.
  • Car accidents: Impaired reactions lead to car accidents. While some accidents may fall under fender benders, others can prove to be fatal for the driver or other drivers on the road and pedestrians nearby.
  • Death: The intoxicated driver, the passengers, or even the driver and passengers of another car could be killed during an accident caused by driving under the influence.
  • Jail time: Drivers under the influences are arrested immediately in most states. 
  • Driving rights revoked: A judge can revoke a driver's right to operate a vehicle or even impound it. While not specific to alcohol use, vehicle impoundment ordinances are issued to prevent DWI/DUI offenders from repeating their crimes. People who violate impaired-driving laws typically lose their driver's licenses. 
  • DUIs can create public shame: DUIs can prevent a person from getting a job, or they could lose their job and be publicly shamed in their community.

How to Spot an Impaired or Drunk Driver on the Road

If you witness impaired driving, safely pull over to the side of the road or a parking lot and call 911.

Reporting these types of behaviors on the road may just save the life of the driver involved as well as others:

  • Weaving and swerving
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road
  • Failure to yield
  • Using stop signs and red lights incorrectly

Drinking and driving is not something that a driver can risk. Not only can it cause personal harm or harm to others, but drinking and driving can be detrimental to the driver's future, landing them behind bars with the guilt and shame of harming another person.

However, there are treatment options that exist. There are both inpatient and outpatient programs for treating an addiction to alcohol as well as alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which comes from long-term alcohol use and dependency. 

There are also mutual support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous that can help those suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD) and those who have multiple DUIs stay sober.

These groups feature communities of like-minded individuals with the same long-term goals: to stay sober and make amends with those they’d hurt and affected with their drinking.

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Resources

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  1. Esteban-Muir, R. P. (2012, September). "Community-Based Impaired-Driving Programs: Local  Ordinances and Other Strategies Addressing Impaired Driving. (Report No. DOT HS 811 678)". Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  2. Anonymous. “Drunk Driving.” NHTSA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 17 Jan. 2020.
  3. Car Crashes Are the #1 Cause of Preventable Death for Teens.” National Safety Council.
  4. Monico, Nicolle. “Blood Alcohol Level: BAC Chart Content Meanings.” Alcohol.org, 1 May 2020.
  5. Driving Laws Published by NOLO. “Blood Alcohol Level Chart: Are You Too Drunk to Legally Drive?” https://dui.drivinglaws.org/.
  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/.

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