Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is commonly known as drunk driving. Drunk driving is extremely dangerous and often fatal. When alcohol is consumed, many of the skills that safe driving requires–such as judgment, concentration, comprehension, coordination, visual acuity, and reaction time–become impaired.
Because of the dangers associated with driving while intoxicated, drunk driving is a criminal offense in a number of countries around the world and is often punishable by high fines and/or a prison sentence.
In the United States, two statutory offenses apply to drunk driving. The first is often referred to as driving while intoxicated (DWI), or driving under the influence (DUI), and is based on the first-hand observations of a law enforcement official. The other category of drunk driving offense is called “”illegal per se,”" which means the driver’s blood alcohol level was over .08% when he/she was pulled over.
In the past, drivers who were suspected of drunk driving were pulled over and evaluated solely on their driving performance and other sobriety tests. These often included walking in a straight line or standing on one leg for 30 seconds. In the end, it was up to the police officer to decide whether or not the suspect was inebriated to a point of illegality.
In 1936, Norway introduced legislation that assigned guilt to drivers based on the amount of alcohol in their bloodstream. The introduction of these new laws allowed for the advent of objective chemical sobriety tests which measure the blood alcohol content, or BAC, of the driver. A driver’s blood alcohol content is measured as a percent, and the legal BAC varies from place to place. Presently, it is illegal to drive with a BAC over .08% in all 50 states in the US.
Lawmakers take drunk driving very seriously because of the high fatality rates associated with the action. In 2006, alcohol-impaired persons were involved in 13,470 traffic-related deaths, which accounted for 32% of all the automobile fatalities that year. In 1996, the number of fatal crashes involving alcohol-impaired persons was 13,451, revealing a negligible decrease over a ten-year period.