The Dangers of Hungover Driving

We all know the dangers of drinking and driving. But what about getting behind the wheel the morning after a night of heavy drinking? The average person can break down a single unit of alcohol — a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine or a 1.5-ounce shot — in about an hour. (Bear in mind that bars and restaurants may serve you more than a single unit of alcohol per drink.)

One hour to break down one standard drink is an estimate for the average person, but not everyone breaks down alcohol at the same rate. There are several factors which affect how quickly your body breaks down alcohol, including your height, weight, gender, age and metabolism, whether you were eating, and whether you take medications that affect the absorption of alcohol. Ultimately, the only thing that can actually reduce your blood alcohol content is time. Late nights and excessive drinking lead to painful mornings and the dreaded effects of a hangover.

The unpleasant symptoms of a hangover can directly affect the cognitive ability of any driver. These symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, dizziness, fatigue, dehydration, difficulty concentrating, and pounding headaches, among others. While everyone experiences hangovers differently, research studies continue to come to the same conclusion: Hungover driving is just as dangerous as driving under the influence.

Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands have found that the effects of alcohol may linger in our brains even after our blood alcohol concentration (BAC) has returned to zero. The study consisted of 48 volunteers, each of whom consumed 10 drinks and participated in a simulated driving test after their BAC had returned to zero. Overall, each participant showed major lapses in attentiveness and increased erratic behavior such as traveling at higher speeds and weaving in between lanes of traffic. The researchers found that the magnitude of driving impairments during alcohol hangover is comparable to a BAC of between 0.05% and 0.08%.

In a similar study at the University of West England, participants spent a night heavily drinking, then drove on a closed course for 20 minutes. The course contained both rural and urban settings and the road simulation test included several common driving hazards with the goal of simulating the environment that drivers may encounter during their morning commute. Researchers found significant increases in speed variability, decreased reaction times, driving errors, and numerous driving infractions including failing to stop at stop signs and running red lights. These driving behaviors directly mimicked that of someone who was under the influence.

According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, hangovers costs the U.S. alone $244 billion (about $1.90 a drink) a year in workplace productivity declines, drinking-related health care expenses, law enforcement, and motor vehicle accidents and fatality costs.

While driving with a hangover is not legally considered “impaired driving,” several research studies have shown that those drivers who do drive with a hangover are in fact driving while impaired to some extent. Impairment in any form can certainly be dangerous and lead to the same results as drunk driving – serious injuries or death.

If you or a loved one have been a victim in an accident caused by an impaired driver, contact the Illinois personal injury accident lawyers at the law firm of John J. Malm and Associates for more information on how you may be entitled to receive compensation for your injuries.

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