The perils of drinking and driving have been drummed into our heads so often and for so long that no driver who slams into something or someone can claim ignorance. But the danger that comes with mixing alcohol with any kind of locomotion — including riding a bike — may come as a surprise to some.
Although less dire and attention-grabbing than drunk driving, alcohol impacts other things we do as well. Even at the extreme low end of alcohol consumption, where one would register a .02 blood-alcohol level (roughly one drink,) the typical response is some loss of judgment and altered mood.
At .05 BAC, typical effects include exaggerated behavior, possible loss of small-muscle control (for example, focusing your eyes), impaired judgment and coordination, reduced alertness and release of inhibition, reduced ability to track moving objects, and reduced response to emergency situations.
At .08 BAC, the typical drinker will experience poor muscle coordination and impaired balance, speech, vision, hearing and reaction time. He or she will have a much harder time detecting danger and processing information, and judgment, reasoning, self-control, concentration and memory are impaired.
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Now, consider activities of daily life that don’t involve driving, but that do require attention, such as complex decision-making at work, conveying sensitive information by computer or telephone, interacting with kids or a spouse, talking with a teacher, or making financial decisions. If we mix these activities with alcohol and stir well, we have a toxic recipe for making serious mistakes. Suddenly these activities of daily life get pretty complicated.
Biking and Beyond
Nationally, nearly 25 percent of bicycling deaths involve an intoxicated rider. Studies show that drunken bicyclists are less likely to wear helmets and more likely to take unnecessary risks, increasing the likelihood of their being injured or killed. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that having a BAC level at or above the legal limit raises a bicyclist’s risk of serious injury by 2,000 percent. Even at .02 BAC, cyclists are six times more likely to be injured.
Alcohol also affects the simple act of walking. Since 2002, the percentage of pedestrian fatalities has grown by 3 percent. Part of this increase may be attributable to alcohol, as more than one-third of pedestrians killed in 2011 had BAC levels above the legal driving limit.
We also know that alcohol adversely affects academic performance in college, particularly among those who were high achievers in high school. In addition, fitness experts caution that alcohol impairs not only performance, but causes dehydration, the bane of athletes. Even small amounts can cause slowed reaction time and decreased hand-eye coordination.
Drinking and performing some fitness or sports activities can also be deadly. Drinking while exercising can cause anaphylaxis and asthma, and alcohol has been linked to increased risk of injury in sports like ice skating, snow skiing and swimming. Alcohol is also the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Alcohol is associated with a higher risk of burn injuries and falls in the home and hypothermia and frostbite when an impaired person ventures outdoors. Ouch.
So next time you decide to drink, think about what you might be doing afterward. Do you have to do anything that requires coordination or a clear head? Are you planning to text your mother-in-law, change a light bulb or lift some weights? If so, you might want to step away from the glass and party on, alcohol-free.