A Review of Alcohol-Impaired Driving: The Role of Blood Alcohol Concentration and Complexity of the Driving Task


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Teri L. Martin, M.Sc.

Toxicology Section

Centre of Forensic Sciences

25 Morton Shulman Ave




E-mail: teri.martin@ontario.ca


The operation of a motor vehicle requires the integrity of sensory, motor, and intellectual faculties. Impairment of these faculties following the consumption of alcohol has been studied extensively through laboratory, closed-course and on-road driving, and epidemiological studies. The scientific literature was reviewed critically, with a focus on low-to-moderate blood alcohol concentrations (BAC ≤ 0.100%), to identify the most reliable determinants of alcohol-impaired driving. Variables such as age, gender, driving skill, and tolerance were shown to have limited impact on impairment. It was concluded the most relevant variables are BAC and complexity of the driving task. The scientific literature provides a high degree of confidence to support the conclusion that a BAC of 0.050% impairs faculties required in the operation of a motor vehicle. Whether impairment is apparent depends upon the complexity of the driving task, which applies to both study design and actual driving.