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Aging Well

Driving? Better Not Drink -- At All

For older drivers, as little as one drink may be too much, according to new research.

Investigators from the University of Florida analyzed how drinking legally non-intoxicating levels of alcohol affect the driving skills of people aged 25 to 35 and those aged 55 to 70.

At the beginning of the study, both groups in those age categories completed a driving task with no alcohol in their system. The task took the drivers down a simulated winding 3-mile stretch of country road. The drivers looked at a computer monitor directly in front of them, with two monitors flanking the first, just as side windows do in a car.

A console included a steering wheel and brake and gas pedals. Occasionally, the drivers would encounter an oncoming car, but there were no other distractions.

On another day, the drivers were further separated: one group was given a placebo, another enough alcohol to induce a blood alcohol level of 0.04 percent, and still another to induce a level of 0.065 percent. Both those levels are below the legal alcohol limit of 0.08 percent. They then completed the same simulated driving task.

Surprisingly, the alcohol didn’t affect the driving skills of younger people. But for older drivers, the researchers found, the alcohol affected their skills.

Based on the study findings, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, the researchers say it could be time to reassess legal blood alcohol levels for all drivers.

But for the older drivers, the small, legal levels of intoxication did affect their driving.

The researchers emphasized that the results among younger drivers doesn’t give the go-ahead for drivers in that age group to drive with alcohol in their system. They said that the laboratory setting was simplified and had none of the variations of real-world driving. 

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