Think “sleeping it off” makes you safe to drive after a night of drinking? Think again.
In the U.K., new statistics show that “morning after” drunk drivers account for 10% of all drunk-driving arrests. The drivers were pulled over between 6 and 8 a.m., still intoxicated hours after their last drink.
People assume a few hours of sleep following a night of drinking is enough to sober up. But depending on the quantity of alcohol consumed, drivers can still be well above the legal limit after the sun rises. Drivers reported a number of reasons for getting behind the wheel the morning after drinking, including saying that driving was “unavoidable” or that they were only going a short distance.
But another factor may be at work, as well. An insurance survey revealed that many individuals do not know how long it takes alcohol to leave the body. Drinkers who would never get behind the wheel after leaving the bar may still be too drunk to drive the next morning without realizing it. Some may believe that a shower, coffee, and a little sleep are enough to overcome the effects of a heavy night of drinking, but in fact, time is the only real cure. On average, “morning after” drunk drivers are 5 hours away from being under the legal limit to drive.
A 2012 article noted that “morning after” driving may be less of an issue in the U.S. than it is across the pond, but the reasons for the difference are unclear. One possibility is that bar closing times in parts of the U.S. are earlier than in the U.K. Many American jurisdictions require bars to close by 2 a.m. (with last call usually 30 minutes before that), while British watering holes can apply for a license to serve drinks around the clock. However, the difference might also lie with American drunk-driving enforcement efforts, such as DUI checkpoints, which tend to happen while it is dark rather than during daylight hours.
Hungover driving: Still impaired at 0.0 BAC
It’s not just still-drunk drivers who pose a hazard to morning commuters. New research shows that driving while hungover, even if there is no alcohol left in your system, can have some of the same impacts as driving while intoxicated. Volunteers in England were asked to engage in a night of heavy drinking and take simulated driving tests the next day. Even though their blood alcohol content had returned to zero, the hungover drivers had slower reaction times and made dangerous errors like crossing the center line. A study in Holland had similar results, noting that the volunteers experienced “reduced concentration and alertness” when hungover.
Do communities need to address morning-after and hungover driving? Do you think measures like earlier closing times for bars and liquor stores, or public service announcements would help?