Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Font Size

Even Small Amounts of Alcohol May Impair Driving

Study Shows a Link Between Car Accidents and Drivers With Less Than Legal Limit for Alcohol in Blood
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 21 2011 -- Driving with a buzz can be as dangerous as driving when you are fully intoxicated, a new study suggests.

The blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit in the U.S. is set at 0.08%, but levels well below this legal limit are associated with car accidents that cause incapacitating injury and death. According to the CDC, close to 30 people in the U.S. die every day in motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver. This is the equivalent of one death every 48 minutes.

"Buzz kills," says David Phillips, PhD a sociologist at University of California, San Diego. "No amount of alcohol seems to be safe for driving."

The new study appears in Addiction.

In the study, drivers who tested positive for blood alcohol at levels well-below the legal BAC limit were more likely to be in severe car accidents than sober drivers largely because they drove significantly faster, were less likely to be appropriately using a seatbelt, and were usually driving the striking vehicle.

The more alcohol the driver drank, the faster that they were likely to be driving, and the more severe the car accident was likely to be, the study shows.

Alcohol Blood Levels

Lowering the legal BAC limit may help, Phillips says. In Sweden, the BAC limit is 0.02%; in Japan, it is 0.03%.

Researchers looked at data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which includes information on all 1,495,667 people in the U.S. who were involved in fatal car accidents from 1994 to 2008. This data included information on BAC in increments of 0.01.

Car accidents are 36.6% more severe even if alcohol was barely detectable in the driver's bloodstream, the study shows. The findings held even after researchers took into account the days and times of the week when car accidents are known to be more severe. Car accident severity is significantly higher on weekends, between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., and in June through August.

"There is no safe level," Phillips says. "Why assume that just because you have been driving buzzed for years that it is safe?"

Today on WebMD

child ignored by parents
prescription pain pills
Woman experiencing withdrawal symptoms
Teen girl huddled outside house
Man with glass of scotch
overturned shot glass
assortment of medication
Depressed and hurting