Distracted drivers fare worse with alcohol, even at legal levels

In an era when cellphones and smart devices infiltrate nearly every aspect of daily life, comparisons between distracted driving and drunk driving are frequent. Previous research suggests that the act of using a mobile phone behind the wheel increases the risk of traffic accidents by a similar factor as being legally drunk. A new study takes the research one step further and asks what happens when drivers combine alcohol with distraction.

Combining risk factors increases their impact

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Kentucky, and the results were published in the journal Psychopharmacology. Participants in the study drove driving simulators through an environment designed to emulate a typical urban roadway, with built-in distractions that mimicked the experience of tending to cellphone or onboard navigation system. As one may expect, the findings from the study indicate that distracted driving and alcohol are a highly dangerous combination.

What was more surprising is that the impact of distracting activities on driving ability was heightened even for drivers who had consumed alcohol but remained within the legal limits. In other words, even drivers with blood alcohol content (BAC) levels below the 0.08 drunk driving threshold were still markedly more affected by distractions than those who had not consumed alcohol at all. The presence of distractions within the vehicle doubled the impairment levels of the drivers who had consumed alcohol, regardless of whether their BAC levels were above or below the legal limit.

Distractions pose a particular threat to pedestrians

Drunk and distracted drivers pose a very real threat to the safety of everyone else on the road, including other motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists alike. However, pedestrians and bicyclists are especially vulnerable to drunk and distracted drivers because they are generally harder to see and lack the protective structure of a vehicle to absorb some of the force of impact.

Between 2005 and 2010 – a period during which cellphone use was expanding rapidly – distraction-related pedestrian fatalities spiked by about 50 percent, according to researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. During that same time, fatal distraction-related bicycle accidents also spiked by about 30 percent.

San Francisco: A hotbed of pedestrian hazards

Pedestrian safety is an area of ongoing concern in the San Francisco area, where someone on foot is hit by a car or other motor vehicles an average of three times every day year round. According to the pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco, pedestrians make up about 60 percent of the city’s traffic deaths, which is four times the national average. Furthermore, in about two out of every three cases in which a San Francisco pedestrian is involved in a vehicle collision, it is the driver’s fault.

When drivers cause accidents as a result of alcohol impairment, distraction or just plain carelessness, it often amounts to negligence. People who are injured by negligent drivers can take steps to pursue compensation for their injuries, lost income and related medical costs by filing a claim in the civil legal system. For more information about the legal options that are available after a car accident in California, contact the personal injury lawyers at Mary Alexander & Associates, P.C.

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