AARP Driving Resource Center

Impaired Driving — How Are Older Drivers Affected?

Alcohol’s effect on driving begins with a person’s first drink

Alcohol-impaired driving or “drunk driving” can occur even with small amounts of alcohol, because alcohol affects everyone differently.

See also: Find out if your medications could affect your driving

alcohol, driver resource center

As the body ages, its ability to break down alcohol decreases. Therefore, alcohol stays longer in an older person’s body. — iStockphoto

  • Alcohol’s effect on driving begins with a person’s first drink.
  • Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) may be affected by age, gender, physical condition, medication, time, food and other factors.
  • As the body ages, its ability to break down alcohol decreases. Therefore, the alcohol stays longer in an older person’s body.
  • Alcohol needs no digestion time and is absorbed directly through the walls of an empty stomach; it can reach the brain within 60 seconds.
  • Mixing alcohol and medications may have unexpected effects on your driving.
  • A drink is defined as one 12-ounce beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled alcohol; it takes about an hour for that one drink to leave the body.
  • Mixed drinks contain different amounts of alcohol, so it is important to know how much alcohol has been consumed, not just how many drinks a person had.
  • BAC can continue to rise for a period of time after the last drink is consumed.
  • Drinking coffee, exercising or taking a cold shower cannot speed up the rate at which alcohol leaves the body.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws making it a crime to drive with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) at or above .08.

Effects of Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

BAC Level of Impairment
.00 Only safe level!
.01-.03 Impairment begins – Reflexes, vision, judgment and concentration start to become affected.
.04-.07 Risk of crash – Greater effects to reflexes, vision, judgment and concentration. Effects are increased when combined with fatigue, illness, stress, other drugs or poor driving conditions.
.08-.11 Increased risk of crash – Illegal in every state; risk of crash is six to 10 times greater than at .00 BAC, and level of impairment is greatly increased.
.12-.15 Very high risk of crash – Motor skills, mental functions and vision are severely impaired.
.16+ Extreme crash risk – Possible unconsciousness at .25 -.35; death may occur at about .35-.45 BAC.

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