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Drunk Driving Laws in Focus

Despite the lowest level of alcohol related traffic deaths in 16 years, a new study conducted by the Century Council reveals that at least three quarters of those surveyed did not know how many drinks they could have before reaching the legal limit for driving. Early Show Health Contributor Dr. Bernadine Healy has these guidelines toward a safe holiday season.

According to a survey of more than 1,000 adult drivers, 78 percent did not know what constituted drunk driving. And, the typical respondent said the maximum legal blood alcohol level was .20 percent.

Actually, 17 states and the District of Columbia use .08 percent as the maximum. Another 33 states allow a limit of .10 percent. Of course, in all 50 states, there is no legal alcohol level in the blood of drivers under age 21.

Even in small amounts, alcohol slows reaction time and makes it more difficult to keep track of moving objects.

According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, virtually all drivers are substantially impaired at .08 percent with regard to critical driving tasks such as braking, steering and changing lanes, and general judgement.

Respondents were also asked about the amount of beer, wine or liquor that a 170-pound man or a 135-pound woman could consume in one hour before their blood alcohol level reached .08 percent.

Just 21 percent knew that the man could have three to four servings, while the woman would have to limit her consumption to just over two drinks. Experts contend that a lower fluid to mass ratio makes women more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.

How quickly you reach that .08 percent level depends on other factors as well, including metabolism, how much food is in your stomach, your age, and the time it took you to consume those drinks.

In addition, just 16 percent of those asked knew that 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits contain the same amount of alcohol as 12 ounces of beer or five ounces of wine.

And, if have drink too much, a cup of coffee is not the answer. Waiting it out is. Alcohol leaves the body at a rate of .02% an hour. A cup of coffee or a nap won't sober you up.

The Century Council, which commissioned the survey, is funded by the spirits industry to promote efforts against underage drinking and drunken driving.

The group wants more public education and stepped-up enforcement of drunken-driving laws to reduce the rate of alcohol-related accidents. Alcohol was a factor in road accidents that killed 15,936 people last year in the United States.
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