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One drink might make older drivers impaired, a new study says

Posted by: Tim Harlow Updated: March 21, 2014 - 1:55 PM

Fine wine might get better with age, your ability to imbibe and drive doesn't.

A new study found that drivers older than 55 can be impaired after just one glass of wine ( or your favorite alcoholic beverage), even it they are below the legal driving limit of .08 percent blood-alcohol content, according to two University of Florida professors whose research was published in the February edition of Psychopharmacology.

Sara Jo NIxon and Alfredo Sklar tested how non-intoxicating levels of alcohol affected the driving skills of two groups of 72 people. Half were between 25 and 36 and the other half were people ages 55 to 70. They found that in the older group one drink was enough to make them a dangerous driver.

The researchers say it could be time to reassess legal blood alcohol levels for all drivers.

Sklar and Nixon had both groups complete a driving task while completely sober. The participants sat in front of a simulator and navigated a 3-mile stretch of a winding country road. The researchers assessed the drivers' ability to to stay in the center of their lane and maintain a constant speed.  They also looked at how rapidly they adjusted their steering wheels.

On another day,  some of the participants were served beverages strong enough to produce a .04 blood-alcohol level, others a drink with a negligible amount of alcohol, and a third group was served an alcoholic beverage that raised the breath test to 0.065 percent. Then they were retested.

Researchers timed the re-test to the participant's BAC levels were declining to mimic a situation in which they might have had one drink at dinner.

The results of the re-test showed that younger drivers who had the strong drink had no problems completing the task, but older drivers did. They did point out that this was in a laboratory setting and that did not mean younger drivers would not have been affected in a real-world situation.

“These simulations have been used a lot in looking at older adults, and they have been used at looking how alcohol affects the driving of younger adults, but no one’s ever looked at the combination of aging drivers and alcohol,” Sklar said.

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