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Why 'buzzed driving' can be as deadly as being over the limit

A driver doesn't have to be falling-down drunk or even have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% to be a danger on the road. You've probably seen the ads that warn "Buzzed driving is drunk driving." So, what is "buzzed driving?"

It refers to driving with a BAC of anywhere from .01% to .07%. Here in Georgia, drivers who are under 21 only need a BAC of .02% for a DUI arrest. Many other states have similarly low legal limits for minors.

Besides risking arrest if they drive after drinking any alcohol, minors (and adults) also pose a danger to themselves and others. A study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego that looked at data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) found that drivers with just a .01% BAC are 46% more likely to cause a crash than drivers with no alcohol in their system.

While the .08% legal limit is seen as an important delineation under the law, at least for adult drivers, researchers determined that the chances of being responsible for a crash increase steadily as a driver's BAC rises from .01% all the way up to .24%.

However, researchers noted, adult drivers with a BAC of .07% who cause a crash often face no greater consequences for their actions than those who were completely sober. The sociologist in charge of the study noted, "The law should reflect what official accident investigators are seeing," These include behaviors by the at-fault driver like driving toward oncoming traffic and running red lights.

The study's leader says, "Our data support both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's campaign that ‘Buzzed driving is drunk driving' and the recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board, to reduce the legal limit to BAC 0.05 percent. In fact, our data provide support for yet greater reductions in the legal BAC."

Utah has already lowered its legal limit for adults to .05%. Even California lawmakers are considering dropping the legal BAC to that level for adults.

Young people who drink and drive, even if they've consumed only a small amount of alcohol, risk facing criminal charges that can impact their futures. If your child has been charged with DUI and/or underage drinking, it's essential to seek experienced legal guidance.