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Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits in the U.S. High in Comparison to Other Countries

Posted in Drunk Driving

It’s Saturday night in Sweden, and several people are out at a nightclub. Many have an alcoholic beverage in their hand, but it’s likely they won’t be driving themselves home. The country is just one example of places where blood alcohol concentration legal limits are low, at .02 g/100 ml, compared to the U.S. level of .08, according to a Time news article.

Instead, people who have had an alcoholic beverage in Sweden will take a taxi or alternate transportation home instead of getting behind the wheel. The discrepancy between U.S. blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits and other nations’ limits is calling into question whether or not the level is too lenient to prevent accidents and fatalities caused by drunk driving.

A BAC of .08 might require a male weighing 180 pounds to consume anywhere from a six-pack of beer to a twelve-pack, within a time span of two hours, depending on how fast he metabolizes the alcohol and other factors. However, people‘s driving ability under the influence of alcohol varies greatly. Some drivers can be noticeably impaired in terms of reaction time and motor skills after one or two drinks.

The International Center for Alcohol Policies says only a handful of other countries – 15, to be exact – have a similar BAC limit as the U.S. The level most common across Europe is .05 or less, and some countries don’t allow drivers to have any alcohol in the blood at all.

Some countries are working to reduce their legal BAC, in an effort to save lives. Sweden’s BAC limit was lowered from .05 to .02 ten years ago, and the country shows a drunk driving car accident rate of 16 percent – compared to a U.S. rate of around 32 percent. Lowered rates of drunk driving fatalities were also reported in other countries when BAC legal levels were reduced. Lowering BAC legal levels may also create a shift in attitude toward not taking drunk driving lightly.

In the U.S., some measures have been tried to change BAC limits. Measures include exploring technology that would prevent vehicles from starting if the driver’s BAC is over the legal level.

Education related to how alcohol lingers in the system may be another tool that could help reduce drunk driving fatalities in the U.S. People who choose to drink should be aware that alcohol concentrations in the blood can remain elevated for hours following the last drink, and that alcohol is processed differently from person to person.

As a generalization, it can take more than three hours for some people to metabolize a large-sized glass of wine, or up to two hours to process a pint-sized beer. These rates can be affected by the size of the person, if they are consuming food with the alcohol, and factors including prescriptions they may have used before drinking.
In the U.S., it is believed that someone is killed in a drunk-driving car accident every 45 minutes. By exploring a stricter BAC law, perhaps many lives could be saved and attitudes changed toward the severity of having even a modest amount of alcohol and getting behind the wheel.