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Fifteen percent of drunk driving fatalities involve drivers under the legal alcohol limit

Passengers could be at the highest risk in these instances

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Photo (c) arto-canon - Getty Images
A new study explored the trends behind fatal drunk driving accidents across the U.S, specifically when it comes to blood alcohol concentration (BAC). 

According to the team of researchers, the drivers in 15 percent of all fatal crashes tested for a BAC under the legal limit, which is 0.08. In more than half of these cases, the passengers were at a greater risk of death than the drivers. 

“Our study challenges the popular misconception that alcohol-involved crashes primarily affect drinking drivers, or that BACs below the legal limit don’t matter,” said researcher Dr. Timothy S. Naimi. 

Staying off the road

The researchers evaluated data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, spanning 16 years worth of alcohol-induced crashes. In that time, there were over 600,000 drunk driving fatalities. 

The researchers learned that drivers in nearly 40 percent of those crashes had alcohol in their systems, though 15 percent were technically under the legal alcohol limit. 

These findings highlight the danger associated with driving with any alcohol in a consumer’s system, particularly for young people. The study found that in cases where drivers were still under the legal limit, fatalities were most common among young passengers. The researchers explained that a BAC as low as 0.03 can make it risky for consumers to get behind the wheel. 

Moving forward, the team is looking to policymakers to tighten up restrictions around alcohol in the hopes of reducing the number of crashes and fatalities. While some states have lowered the legal limit from 0.08 to 0.05, they also suggested raising alcohol taxes and making alcohol harder to come by in convenience stores. 

“Lower alcohol crashes have been underestimated as a public health problem,” said Dr. Naimi. “Our research suggests that stringent alcohol policies reduce the likelihood of fatal accidents involving drivers with all levels of alcohol blood concentration.” 

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