The Effects of Blood Alcohol Concentration
June 4, 2023
Drunk Driving

Alcohol is a substance that impairs brain function, cognition, judgment, and muscle control — all necessary characteristics required to operate a motor vehicle.

How Does Alcohol Ingest Into My Bloodstream?

  1. Alcohol permeates through the walls of the stomach and small intestine directly into the bloodstream.
  2. As alcohol accumulates, metabolism occurs in the liver.
  3. A decline in the central nervous system begins to occur.

Alcohol level is measured by the content of alcohol in blood volume. This is called Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC.

A BAC of .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter (g/dL) is illegal in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In Utah, the BAC limit is .05.

In 2021, there were 2,266 people killed in alcohol-related crashes where a driver had a BAC of .01 to .07 g/dL.

However, a person can still be charged with DUI although their blood alcohol concentration level is below the legal limit of .08 percent. This is based on the arresting officer’s observation of the driver’s mannerisms or by failure of any part of the field sobriety test (FST’s).

BAC is measured with a breathalyzer, a device that measures the level of alcohol in a driver’s breath, or by a blood test.


Below is the typical and predictable effects of driving at different levels of BAC: 


The Effects of Blood Alcohol Concentration

Table describing BAC and typical effects of various BAC levels
0.02 Some loss of judgment; relaxation, slight body warmth, altered mood Decline in visual functions (rapid tracking of a moving target), decline in ability to perform two tasks at the same time (divided attention)
0.05 Exaggerated behavior, may have loss of small-muscle control (e.g., focusing your eyes), impaired judgment, usually good feeling, lowered alertness, release of inhibition Reduced coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering, reduced response to emergency driving situations
0.08 Muscle coordination becomes poor (e.g., balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing), harder to detect danger; judgment, self-control, reasoning, and memory are impaired Concentration, short-term memory loss, speed control, reduced information processing capability (e.g., signal detection, visual search), impaired perception
0.1 Clear deterioration of reaction time and control, slurred speech, poor coordination, and slowed thinking Reduced ability to maintain lane position and brake appropriately
0.15 Far less muscle control than normal, vomiting may occur (unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed a tolerance for alcohol), major loss of balance Substantial impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving task, and in necessary visual and auditory information processing


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