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Keywords:

  • Drinking and Driving;
  • Alcohol Administration;
  • Perceived Danger;
  • College Students

Background

Previous findings suggest that alcohol alters perceptions of risky behaviors such as drinking and driving. However, studies testing these perceptions as a predictor of drinking and driving typically measure these perceptions while participants are sober. This study tested whether the perceived danger of driving after drinking assessed while intoxicated was associated with increased willingness to drive and self-reported drinking-and-driving behavior over and above perceptions assessed while sober. Additionally, we tested the effect of acute tolerance on the perceived danger of driving after drinking assessed on the ascending and descending limbs of the breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) curve.

Methods

Eighty-two young adults attended 2 counterbalanced laboratory sessions. In one session, participants consumed a moderate dose of alcohol (men: 0.72 g/kg, women: 0.65 g/kg) and reported their perceived danger of driving and willingness to drive at multiple points across the BrAC curve. On a separate occasion, participants remained sober and appraised the dangerousness of driving at a hypothetical, illegal BrAC.

Results

Perceptions of the dangerousness of driving following alcohol administration were associated with increased willingness to drive and higher rates of self-reported drinking-and-driving behavior over and above perceptions reported when sober. Furthermore, perceived danger was reduced on the descending limb of the BrAC curve, compared with the ascending limb, suggesting the occurrence of acute tolerance.

Conclusions

Results from this study suggest that intoxicated perceptions are uniquely associated with drinking-and-driving decisions and that the perceived danger of drinking and driving is lower on the descending limb of the BrAC curve. Efforts to prevent alcohol-impaired driving have focused on increasing awareness of the danger of driving after drinking. Prevention efforts may be enhanced by educating drivers about how intoxication can alter perceived danger, and interventions may benefit from targeting perceptions of dangerousness while individuals are intoxicated in addition to when they are sober.