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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Older Drivers May Be Vulnerable to Just One Drink

But that doesn't mean it's safe for younger drivers to consume any alcohol, researchers say


The drivers then took a spin along the simulated roadway again.

Drinking less than one drink and then driving the simulated car did not have an impact on the younger groups' skills, but the older drivers exhibited poorer precision, according to the study. Their response at the wheel suggests "a greater sensitivity to alcohol among older drinkers," the researchers said.

Jan Withers, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, called the new findings "very interesting."

"Impairment can begin with the first drink, so it's important for people to think about what they have had to eat, what medications they may be taking and how their body typically responds to alcohol," Withers said.

The results suggest that it might be time to reassess legal blood alcohol levels for all drivers, the study authors said.

Changing drinking limits for drivers is not necessarily the answer, however, said Janina Kean, president and CEO of High Watch Recovery Center, a drug-rehab facility in Kent, Conn. "If you are going to drive an automobile you should not drink at all," said Kean, who is also a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

She said the country faces deeper issues of addiction, and jailing drunk drivers won't make significant inroads. "Caging them is not going to solve the problem of alcoholism," Kean said. "When they get out, they don't get treatment. You can't learn your lesson if it's a disease."

Younger drivers shouldn't take the results as a message that drinking and driving is OK, the experts also said.

Even though the older adults in the study were more sensitive to alcoholic drinks than the younger adults, Sklar said, the driving scenario he and his colleagues used for the study was far less complex than driving environments most people encounter in the real world, which can include pedestrians, animals, unusual traffic patterns, emergencies and other unpredictable drivers.

"Our findings do not mean these doses are completely safe for younger drivers," Sklar said.

Drinkers should always plan ahead for a designated driver if they intend to consume alcohol, MADD's Withers said. "The safest choice for anyone over the age of 21 is to have a designated nondrinking driver if they're going to drink," she said.

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