Background. Despite the existence of many different “Don’t drink and drive” programs and campaigns over the past 30 years, alcohol intoxication has continued to account for approximately one quarter to one third of all traffic crashes and crash-related deaths in the United States. The present study describes a new ‘hands on’ evidence-based approach involving real alcohol-intoxicated subjects using a virtual reality (VR) driving ‘game’ to educate the public more effectively about the dangers of drunk driving.
Method. A single demonstration subject ‘drove’ a VR-based portable driving simulator on multiple occasions before (Pre) and at 30 minute intervals for up to six hours after either vehicle (no alcohol), 2, 4 or 6 ‘drinks’ (3, 6, or 9 ounces of 80 proof vodka). The defensive driving task was a choice reaction crash avoidance steering maneuver in which the driver’s task was to determine which way to turn to avoid a crash and then aggressively steer away to avoid a crash. The primary dependent variable was the latency to initiate an avoidance steering response. BAC determinations (estimations) were conducted immediately prior to driving tests using BAC Track portable breathalyzers.
Results. Control drives (Pre-Treatment and Vehicle treatment) were characterized by an approximately 300-320 msec reaction time to initiate a crash avoidance. Alcohol increased crash-avoidance reaction time. Peak BAC values were 35, 78 and 120 mg/dl for 2,4 and 6 drinks, respectively; the decline in BAC was comparable and linear for all three treatments. There was a strong correlation (r=0.85) between pre-drive BAC level and reaction time across all of the alcohol-related drives. There was a significant increase in crash avoidance reaction time when the BAC was 50-79 mg/dl, which is below the legally-defined BAC limit (80 mg/dl) currently used in most states in the US.
Conclusions. These results demonstrate (1) this VR-based driving simulator task could be a useful ‘hands on’ tool for providing public service demonstrations regarding the hazards of drinking and driving and (2) a BAC concentration of 50 mg/dl represents a reasonable evidence-based cut-off for alcohol-impaired driving.