If you’re guilty of driving home from the pub after a couple of pints or a large glass of wine, here are some of the dangers of drink driving that might make you think twice about whether or not you’re really OK to be on the road:
Reduced Reactions Times
According to the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP), reaction times can be reduced by anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent when drivers have been consuming alcohol , increasing the risk on the road. Slower reaction times have many serious consequences, including entering a curve in the road too late, a delayed response to red lights, and an inability to apply the brake within the time frame required to avoid accidents or collisions. The reason for reduced reaction times is simple - alcohol affects the brain, making it more difficult for the brain to process and respond to data.
Driving is often described as a ‘visually guided’ activity, which means that our actions - steering, indicating, braking and so on - are all made in response to what we can see. Driving is an activity when hand-eye coordination is vital, as our hands respond to visual stimuli, such as bends in the road, other vehicles, and pedestrians, for example. Research suggests that, when we’ve been drinking alcohol, the eyes detect situational changes much later than they usually would, leaving less time for the hands to make the necessary actions to keep us safe on the road.
Obscured Perception of Risk
Studies have found that drinking alcohol can significantly affect our ability to process the probability of risk, which is why, after a few drinks, some of us are more likely to partake in potentially dangerous activities - remember the Irishman that drove into a bonfire on Halloween ? - that sort of thing! There’s a feeling of invincibility, which can make driving under the influence all the more dangerous. Research show that a woman’s ability to anticipate a crash drops from 85 percent to just 38 percent after consuming alcohol, demonstrating the effects of alcohol on our perceptions.
As we have an obscured perception of risk when we’re drunk, it’s no surprise that we’re more likely to demonstrate risk-taking behaviours behind the wheel after we’ve had a few. Studies have found that, with a blood alcohol level of 80mg per 100ml - the legal limit in Northern Ireland - drivers are more likely to partake in risk-taking activities , including overtaking on dangerous stretches of road, overtaking in small gaps, and speeding. While the legal limit in the Republic of Ireland is a little lower - 50mg per 100ml (typically between 1 and 2 pints), it’s vital to be aware of the effects.
What Can the Dangers of Drink Driving Lead to?
Reduced reaction times, visual disturbances, obscured perception of risk, and risk-taking behaviours can all have serious consequences on the road, both for yourself and for other drivers and pedestrians. Around 350 people in Ireland drive while under the influence each and every week according to the Road Safety Authority - and that’s just the ones we know about! Drink driving can kill, and it’s estimated that 1 in every 10 road deaths in Ireland can be attributed to alcohol, with Louth, Meath, and Dublin being areas where drink driving accidents are most prevalent.
The good news is that drink driving offences in Ireland are continuing to drop as more and more drivers begin to understand the dangers of having ‘one more for the road’. The 2012 decision to lower the legal limit from 80mg per 100ml (the current UK limit) to 50mg per 100ml (the current limit across most of Europe) appears to have had a significant effect, with offences dropping by 10 percent between 2013 and 2014 alone.
The primary issue with legal limits is that it’s difficult to know when you’re pushing the boundaries, as the number of drinks you can have depends upon your size, your weight, and your body’s own ability to process alcohol. When it comes to road safety, taking a combined approach is best - combining the legal limit with knowledge of the dangers of drink driving to determine whether or not it’s really worth getting behind the wheel, or whether it’s better just to hop in a taxi.