We can all see the changes the novel coronavirus has made to the traffic levels in Durham. But it wasn’t long ago that traffic was heavy and bustling, and everyone hopes that it won’t be long until it returns.

When it does, familiar problems will return as well, including rush hour congestion, distracted driving, red-light-running, tailgating, speeding and, of course, drunk driving.

A new study shows that it is time to rethink and redefine what drunk driving means. For many, only those drivers who have a blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) at or above the legal limit of .08 percent are considered impaired and dangerous. The recent research challenges that notion, however.

The study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that drivers who have BACs below the legal threshold accounted for 15 percent of alcohol-related crash fatalities. So even though they are not legally drunk, the drivers in these crashes were impaired enough to cause motor vehicle wrecks that resulted in the loss of life.

Of the deaths in these crashes, 55 percent were individuals other than the impaired driver. So it isn’t that these drinking drivers only end their own lives – in slightly more than half of these violent incidents, they end someone else’s life. Researchers also determined that youth fatalities were likely in these below-threshold fatal crashes than in car accidents involving drivers above the legal BAC limit.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that approximately 1 in 6 children who are in drunk-driving wrecks die and that in 54 percent of those cases, it is the child’s own driver who was intoxicated.

The NHTSA also points out that both cognitive and physical impairment begins at BACs as low as .02 percent. The federal agency describes the decline in abilities that accompanies a rise in alcohol levels:

  • BAC .02 percent: reduced visual functions and a diminishment of the ability to perform two tasks at the same time
  • BAC .05 percent: diminished coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects, delayed responses to emergencies
  • BAC .08 percent: at North Carolina’s legal threshold, drivers experience a loss of concentration, as well as a reduced ability to process information, impaired perceptions and diminished ability to control vehicle speed

Of course, all of those listed diminished abilities increase the likelihood of crashes resulting in injuries or deaths.

If you or a loved one has been harmed by a drunk or drugged driver, contact a Durham attorney who knows how to get maximum compensation for damages in both personal injury and wrongful death litigation.