Study: Hard to Tell Who Is Drunk

ByABC News
June 18, 2001, 1:08 PM

June 18 -- It can be hard to tell if someone has been drinking too much todrive.

A new study says even trained professionals," such as police officers, werenot always able to assess drunkenness when they screened a videotape ofdrinkers.

When people are far too intoxicated to drive they might not appear to beintoxicated by casual observation," said the studys lead author, biologicalpsychologist John Brick . Brick is the executive director of IntoxiKon, aPennsylvania-based company that provides research and education on drug and alcohol use.

Brick called it "interesting" that highly trained individuals, policeofficers, were like other people and didnt [simply by observing] possessthe ability to identify someone" who was intoxicated until blood alcohol levels are quite high.

Videotaped Interviews

In the study, New Jersey police officers were shown videotaped interviewswith seated drinkers at low (0.08 to 0.09), medium (0.11 to 0.13) and high(0.15 to 0.16) blood-alcohol levels. The officers were then asked questionsabout the subjects levels of intoxication and how confident they were in their ratings thatthese drinkers could be allowed to drive.

The officers could only consistently discern intoxication when blood levelsexceeded 0.15 percent. Below that level, many officers made incorrectjudgments.

President Clinton signed legislation in October 2000 that provided incentivefor states to adopt 0.08 percent blood-alcohol concentration as the standardfor drunken driving. So far, 25 states have adopted the incentive; mostother states have a 0.10 percent law.

The study results were consistent with other studies Brick has done. Itappeared in the June issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical &Experimental Research.

Police Capable of Assessing Drunken Drivers in the Field

Brick stresses in the study, These results should not be interpretedto mean that police officers cannot make decisions about drunk drivers."