Just One Drink Can Make Older Adults Dangerous Drivers, Study

By , UniversityHerald Reporter

People, who are 55 years and older, should avoid alcohol before driving, according to a University of Florida study. Researchers said that just one drink could place the lives of older drivers in danger. The body's ability to process alcohol diminishes quickly with age.

Sara Jo Nixon, Ph.D., a professor in the departments of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Florida and doctoral candidate Alfredo Sklar tested how drinking legally non-intoxicating levels of alcohol, less than 0.08 percent of total blood alcohol, affect the driving skills of two age groups: ages 25 to 35 and ages 55 to 70.

The 36 participants in each group first participated in a simulated driving test sober in a winding 3-mile stretch of country road. Two computer monitors flanked a large computer monitor in the center that mimicked the side windows of a car. A stereo system emitted driving sounds. A console included a steering wheel, brakes and gas pedals. Apart from oncoming cars, the participants did not encounter other distractions, not even a cow.

While the participants took the test, the researchers observed the drivers' ability to maintain their vehicle on the center of the road and at a steady speed.

Then the participants were divided into three groups and were given three different drinks - placebo (a diet lemon-lime soda), a drink that produced a 0.04 percent breath alcohol level, while the third group's drink had a breath alcohol level of 0.065 percent.

Participants then undertook the same driving task. But this time, the researchers timed the task so that it mimicked a situated wherein individuals would have had a drink with dinner and then drive home.

Researchers found that alcohol consumption did not affect the driving skills of younger adults, while it did influence older drivers to some extent.

"The absence of effects in this laboratory setting does not mean that young adult drivers' driving wouldn't be affected in normal circumstances, driving in a typical, real-world setting," Sklar said in a press release.

"These simulations have been used a lot in looking at older adults, and they have been used at looking how alcohol affects the driving of younger adults, but no one's ever looked at the combination of aging drivers and alcohol," Sklar said.

The finding is published in findings in the journal Psychopharmacology.

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