Study Seeks to Answer Why Smart People Drink and Drive

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iStockphoto/Thinkstock(COLUMBIA, Mo.) — Young adults educated about the dangers of drinking and driving were still willing to get behind the wheel while impaired. A new study suggests efforts to educate the public about the dangers of drinking and driving do not account for the fact that intoxicated and therefore judgment-impaired people are ultimately making the decision to drive.

Researchers at the University of Missouri compared perceptions of risks of driving while drunk in 82 college-age subjects while they were sober. They then tested their willingness to drive and perceptions of risk while driving after becoming intoxicated.  

Not surprisingly, alcohol impaired their ability to judge the situation, and the situation seemed less dangerous after drinking. This was even more striking when looking at their willingness to drive on the descending limb of intoxication, when someone would be actually making the decision in a social environment.

In 2011, alcohol‑impaired driving was involved in 31 percent of U.S. traffic fatalities, which translates to 9,878 alcohol‑impaired driving fatalities, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Authors suggest we should shift our efforts in reducing drinking and driving behavior to target the in-the-moment decision.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, was published Thursday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

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