Laboratory analysis of risky driving at 0.05% and 0.08% blood alcohol concentration

Nicholas A. Van Dyke, Mark T. Fillmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background The public health costs associated with alcohol-related traffic crashes are a continuing problem for society. One harm reduction strategy has been to employ per se limits for blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at which drivers can legally operate motor vehicles. This limit is currently 0.08% in all 50 US states. Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board proposed lowering the legal limit to 0.05% (NTSB, 2013). While research has well-validated the ability of alcohol to impair driving performance and heighten crash-risk at these BACs, relatively little is known about the degree to which alcohol might increase drivers’ risk-taking. Methods Risk-taking was examined in 20 healthy adults who were each tested in a driving simulator following placebo and two doses of alcohol calculated to yield peak BACs of 0.08% and 0.05%, the respective current and proposed BAC limits. The drive test emphasized risk-taking by placing participants in a multiple-lane, high-traffic environment. The primary measure was how close drivers maneuvered relative to other vehicles on the road (i.e., time-to-collision, TTC). Results Alcohol increased risk-taking by decreasing drivers’ TTC at the 0.08% target BAC relative to placebo. Moreover, risk-taking at the 0.05% target was less than risk-taking at 0.08% target BAC. Conclusions These findings provide evidence that reducing the legal BAC limit in the USA to 0.05% would decrease risk-taking among drivers. A clearer understanding of the dose-response relationship between various aspects of driving behaviors, such as drivers’ accepted level of risk while driving, is an important step to improving traffic safety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-132
Number of pages6
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by NIAAA grant R01 AA021722 and NIDA grant T32 DA035200. These agencies had no further role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.


  • Alcohol
  • Blood alcohol concentration
  • Legal limit
  • Risk-taking
  • Simulated driving
  • Traffic safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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