How Can Alcohol Affect Your Driving?

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Hundreds of Washingtonians are injured or killed every year in accidents involving a driver under the influence. You probably know that it is against the law to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level above .08% (unless you’re under 21 or driving a commercial vehicle – in those cases, it’s lower). But did you know that drinking, even when you’re under the legal limit, still reduces many skills that you need to drive?

Here are some ways alcohol impairs your driving:

  1. Vision: Visual sharpness takes a hit when you start drinking. Many of us might be familiar with double vision at high intoxication levels, but did you know that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that we may lose some small muscle control, like that needed to focus our eyes, at levels as low as .05%? Blurry vision can impact our ability to track moving objects like pedestrians or other cars. (Source)
  1. Coordination: Alcohol use reduces coordination. Have you ever noticed you stumble around a little more after a few drinks? If you’re tying to drive, though, loss of brain-body coordination seriously impacts vehicle control. Driving requires many accurate body movements, like stepping on the pedals or using your arms to turn the wheel.
  1. Reaction Time: Studies show that high blood alcohol content is related to slower reaction time. The University of Michigan estimates that a driver going 70 miles per hour at the legal BAC limit would travel 12 feet further than a sober one when reacting to something blocking their bath. Can you imagine how many accidents could be avoided with 12 more feet of stopping distance? (Source)
  1. Judgment: Many people would agree that they lose some of their inhibitions when they start drinking, and their sense of judgment and reasoning suffers. While this can be fun (or at least funny) in some situations, it can also make it harder to determine if something is a good idea or a bad one on the road. Rash or poor decisions on driving maneuvers, like how fast to take a turn, can lead to accidents.
  1. Color distinction: This one might come as a surprise, but alcohol use can actually reduce your ability to distinguish colors. Stoplights, brake lights, and colored signs are all things you need to pay attention to while you’re driving, so loss of color distinction can certainly impair your driving. (Source)

Driving under the influence of alcohol is risky, even if you’re below .08% BAC. Your eyesight, body coordination, and decision making are all impaired when you use alcohol. If you or a loved one are injured by a drunk driver, call us at (360) 876-4800 or visit to schedule your no cost consultation.

If you need support or are concerned about your alcohol use, resources are available for you from the WA Health Care Authority. For immediate help, call 911 or contact the WA Recovery Helpline