Risk of impairment and DUI charges may be higher for older drivers

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Research shows that after one drink, older adults with legal BAC levels may show impairment; age-related changes in alcohol tolerance likely contribute.

Many older adults in Newburgh enjoy having the occasional social drink with family, friends or co-workers. After years of experience with alcohol and its effects, it's not uncommon for these adults to think they can accurately judge their ability to drive after just one or two drinks. However, this may not always be the case, since the body's tolerance for alcohol changes with age. A study conducted this year draws attention to this change and the way it may put older adults at risk for DWI charges.

More obvious impairment

Fox News reports that the University of Florida study, which was published in the journal Psychopharmacology, used a driving simulation to compare how drivers performed while sober with how they performed after consuming one drink. The drinks the drivers consumed were designed to raise blood alcohol content to levels of either .04 percent or .065 percent.

Researchers found that the older cohort of participants, who were all between ages 55 and 70, showed impairments at both BAC levels. The drivers were less competent at sustaining steady speeds, steering responsively and staying in the appropriate lane. These findings are troubling because the simulation did not involve heavy traffic, other road users or unpredictable situations. The drivers may have shown more marked impairment in these demanding situations.

Unfortunately, New York drivers can be charged with driving while ability impaired or driving while intoxicated even if their BAC levels do not exceed the relevant legal thresholds. For instance, the study participants with BAC levels of .04 percent were below the legal limit for DWAI, but they still may have been considered impaired. According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, authorities can charge a driver with DWAI or DWI if the driver shows "other evidence of intoxication."

Aging and alcohol tolerance

There are several factors that make older drivers more susceptible to the effects of alcohol, even when they drink in moderation. The National Institutes of Health identifies the following physiological factors that can reduce alcohol tolerance:

  • Metabolism - since metabolic rate decreases with age, older people require more time to process even reasonable amounts of alcohol. Older drivers may need to leave a larger gap between consuming alcohol and driving than they did when they were younger.
  • Bodily water content - older people also hold less water in their bodies than younger individuals. Due to the reduced concentration of water in the blood, a smaller amount of alcohol can result in a higher BAC.
  • Medication use - several medications that older people use may interact harmfully with alcohol. Side effects such as drowsiness, disorientation, poor coordination or adverse physical reactions can make driving difficult or even dangerous.

Since many of these physical changes occur gradually, it may be difficult for older adults to notice them and make necessary adjustments. This means many older drivers may face DUI charges, even if they have done their best to act conscientiously and keep their BAC levels below the legal limit.

Anyone who has been arrested for driving while intoxicated in New York should speak with an experienced attorney about possible defenses against the charges.

Keywords: DUI, drunk driving, arrest, charges, penalties