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Impaired Driving — How Are Older Drivers Affected?

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

Red Wine, White Wine, Wine glasses, Driving Resource Center

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


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’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)

.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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