Background—The public health costs associated with alcohol-related traffic crashes are a continuing problem for society. One harm reduction strategy has been to employ per se limits for blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at which drivers can legally operate motor vehicles. This limit is currently 0.08% in all 50 US states. Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board proposed lowering the legal limit to 0.05 % (NTSB, 2013). While research has well-validated the ability of alcohol to impair driving performance and heighten crash-risk at these BACs, relatively little is known about the degree to which alcohol might increase drivers’ risk-taking.

Methods—Risk-taking was examined in 20 healthy adults who were each tested in a driving simulator following placebo and two doses of alcohol calculated to yield peak BACs of 0.08% and 0.05%, the respective current and proposed BAC limits. The drive test emphasized risk-taking by placing participants in a multiple-lane, high-traffic environment. The primary measure was how close drivers maneuvered relative to other vehicles on the road (i.e., time-to-collision, TTC).

Results—Alcohol increased risk-taking by decreasing drivers’ TTC at the 0.08% target BAC relative to placebo. Moreover, risk-taking at the 0.05% target was less than risk-taking at 0.08% target BAC.

Conclusions—These findings provide evidence that reducing the legal BAC limit in the USA to 0.05% would decrease risk-taking among drivers. A clearer understanding of the dose-response relationship between various aspects of driving behaviors, such as drivers’ accepted level of risk while driving, is an important step to improving traffic safety.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, v. 175, p. 127-132.

© 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

This manuscript version is made available under the CC‐BY‐NC‐ND 4.0 license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.

The document available for download is the author's post-peer-review final draft of the article.

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Funding Information

This research was funded by NIAAA grant R01 AA021722 and NIDA grant T32 DA035200.