It is well known that young drivers are more likely than older ones to have accidents. But a visual analysis of national data on drunken driving puts the disparity into stark relief — and suggests whose lives might be saved by a proposal to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit.
The National Transportation Safety Board, urges the 50 states and the District of Columbia to lower the limit of 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, the standard in most industrialized countries.
Drivers younger than 26 cause the most auto fatalities in the United States, regardless of alcohol consumption. But 21 percent of young drivers involved in a fatal accident have some alcohol in their system — higher than in other age groups. Researchers have shown that even a small amount of alcohol can disrupt a person’s ability to concentrate or do two things at once. For less experienced drivers, one or two drinks can cause the loss of reasoning and reaction time that might result in a fatal crash.
“Young drivers are at far greater risk differential in the 0.08 to 0.05 range,” said Deborah A. P. Hersman, the board’s chairwoman. “Lowering the legal limit can make people more thoughtful about having the second, third or fourth drink — because every drink raises a driver’s crash risk level exponentially.”
More than 6,600 impaired drivers are involved in fatal accidents every year, causing about 10,000 deaths. About half of those accidents are caused by drivers with blood alcohol levels at or below 0.16 percent