Effect of Alcohol on Driving Ability

AuthorJames G. Wigmore
Ef‌fect of Alcohol on Driving Ability
The ef‌fects of alcohol on abilities related to driving have been studied
extensively for over  years and are discussed in this chapter. The fol-
lowing are the main t ypes of research in this area:
• Laboratory studies of various components of the dr iving task
• Laboratory studies using increasingly sophisticated driv ing simu-
• Closed-course driving of motor vehicles
• Actual highway dr iving or observations
• Field (epidemiologic al) stud ies of the incidence of alcohol-related
driving and var ious types of motor vehicle collisions (MVCs)
Various countermeasures have substantia lly reduced alcohol-related
MVC injuries and deaths. Thi s chapter also includes studies on physical
tests of alcohol intoxication and tests in the standa rdized f‌ield sobriety
test (SFST).
There are numerous studies on the ef‌fect of alcohol on abilities related to
driving in the la boratory. These studies are the least real istic in relation
to driving but provide the best scientif‌ic control and can separate the
various important parameters for driving such as dynamic visua l acu-
ity (DVA; ), glare recovery time (), and vigilance tasks ().
Heavy drinkers have not shown signif‌icant behavioral tolerance when
compared with social drinkers in saccadic velocity and digital symbol
Wigmore on Alcohol
Reference Number: 
substitution tests (DSSTs; ). The studies in this sec tion are general-
ly arranged with increa sing blood alcohol concentration (BAC) results.
Reference Number: 
, ., . , . , . , . ,  . -
. “Ef‌fect of Ethanol on Dynamic and Visual Acuity during Vertical
Body Oscillation in Healthy Volunteers.” European Archives Otorhino-
laryngology, : –,  ( tables,  f‌igures,  references)
Abstract: DVA was measured in two female and  male subjects (ages
– years) during vertical body oscillations before and after consum-
ing .g/kg of alcohol within  minutes. Venous blood was collected
immediately after consumption ceased a nd  minutes later, and BACs
were determined by headspace GC. The mean BACs were .g/mL
(.–.g/mL) and .g/mL (.–.g/mL), re-
spectively. There were no signif‌icant dif‌ferences in the performance of
the tasks at either BAC, so the results were pooled and the mean BAC
was therefore .g/mL. Visual orientation is the most importa nt
sensory input during locomotion (e.g., driving a car).
In summary low doses of ethanol disturbe d the visual guided oculo-
motor response during f‌ixation of an earth-f‌ixed t arget while the ob-
server was subject to linear ver tical acceleration. This ef‌fect led to an
increasing delay between the beginning of body and eye movement s.
The consequence is an increasing phase shift an d thus a decrease in
DVA during whole body oscillation.
Reference Number: 
, ..,  . . “Alcohol Prolongs Time Course of Glare Recov-
er y.” Nature, , –,  ( f‌igures,  references)
Abstract: In this study, nine male subject s were given either . or .mL/
kg of % v/v (volume of solute per volume of solvent) alcohol consumed
within  minutes. A placebo was also given. Breath alcohol concentra-
tions (BrACs) were determined by an Intoxilyzer. Subjects were exposed
to a high-intensity light source, and the time required to regain vision
in a low-intensity light f‌ield was measured. Impairment was detected
as much as  hours after alcohol ingestion, when the mean BrACs were
. and .g/mL, respectively. Glare recovery time was increased
–% with a lcohol ingestion.
Ef‌fect of Alcohol on Driving Ability
Reference Number: 
We have demonstrated alcohol induced delays in glare recovery which
we believe to be occurring at the retinal level. These delays have been
demonstrated at surprisingly low BALs [bl ood alcohol levels] (approxi-
mately one cocktail on an empty stomach) and are dose related.
Reference Number: 
, ., . -, . ,  . . “The Inf‌lu-
ence of Blood Alcohol Concentrations of Around .% on Neuropsych-
ological Functions—A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Investigation.”
Addiction Biology, : –,  ( tables,  references)
Abstract: Sixteen male subjects (ages –) were administered either
a placebo or .g/kg of alcohol intravenously (IV). BrACs were deter-
mined with an Alcotest , and serum alcohol concentrations (SACs)
were also determined. The SAC was converted into a BAC using the fac-
tor .. Various neuropsychological tests were conducted including
vigilance, div ided attention, and vocabulary tests. The mean BrAC was
approximately .g/mL, and the mean BAC was .g/mL.
The f‌indings reported herein make it clear that alread y at BAC of around
.% [.g/mL] cognitive functions are impaired with growing com-
plexity of tasks, especiall y those which rely on perception and processing
of visual information. This becomes even more evident the more compl ex
and urgent a task becomes. This is of par ticular importance when steer-
ing a motor vehicle. Cognitive performances such as verbal intelligen ce,
functional capacity, memory and vigilan ce in relation to optical stimuli
remain—as long as they are analyzed separately—uninf‌lue nced.
Reference Number: 
, .., .. ,  .. . “Driving Impairment Due to
Sleepiness Is Exacerbated by Low Alcohol Intake.” Occupational Environ-
mental Medicine, : –,  ( table,  f‌igures,  references)
Abstract: Twelve male subjects (ages – years) were tested on a driv-
ing simulator for  hours in the afternoon under four conditions: a nor-
mal sleep and alcohol, normal sleep and no alcohol (baseline condition),
reduced night sleep ( hours) and alcohol, and reduced night sleep and
no alcohol. The subjects consumed mL of % v/v alcohol within 
minutes after consuming t wo cheese rolls. BrACs were measured with a
Lion Alcolmeter SD- at the start a nd completion of the driving task.

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