A new study by researchers at Northern Kentucky University has shown that binge drinkers have a disconnect between assessing their driving abilities and reality.
The study conducted among college students has found that binge drinkers, even when legally intoxicated, nonetheless believe they having adequate driving abilities.
"Binge drinkers are individuals who, when they drink, typically drink to get drunk. Binge drinkers are often young individuals, like college students, who are drinking irresponsibly and most of them are not alcohol dependent," said Cecile A. Marczinski, assistant professor in the department of psychology at Northern Kentucky University and first author of the study.
For the study, researchers recruited 20 male and 20 female social-drinking college students (24 binge drinkers, 16 non-binge drinkers) between 21 and 29 years of age.
All participants attended two sessions: one during which they received a moderate dose of alcohol (0.65 g/kg), and one during which they received a placebo.
After each session/dose, researchers measured the students' performance during a simulated driving task, and also measured their subjective responses, including ratings of sedation, stimulation and driving abilities.
"After being given an intoxicating dose of alcohol, all of these individuals - both binge and non-binge drinkers - were very poor drivers when tested on a driving simulator," Marczinski said.
"However, when all of the participants are asked to rate their driving ability, the binge drinkers reported that they had a greater ability to drive compared to the non-binge drinkers," she added.
Researchers hypothesize that binge drinkers lack an 'internal sedation cue' that allows an accurate assessment of their driving abilities after drinking.
"Furthermore, the dose of alcohol we gave resulted in a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08g percent, which is the legal limit for driving. If these binge drinkers had been driving and were stopped by police, they would have been prosecuted for impaired driving," Marczinski said.
She said that these findings might help policy and law makers understand why the standard message of 'don't drive when your BAC reaches .08 or more' may be not be as straight forward to follow as one might think.
"A BAC of .08 may feel differently depending on how much you typically drink. If you often drink to get drunk, as many young people do, you will be very bad at determining whether or not you should drive" she said.
"Thus, prevention programs where college students are stopped leaving bars and given a breathalyzer reading may help many individuals learn what .08 feels like.
"In addition, we might also entertain a lower BAC limit for driving. Many European countries have had great success in decreasing impaired driving rates and related accidents by lowering their BAC limit to .05," she added.
The study will be published in the July issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and are currently available at OnlineEarly.