Watch out for that glass of wine at meals or those two beers you had when celebrating your friend's birthday. Research now suggests that having as little as a drink or two within six hours before getting behind the wheel of a car increases the risk of being involved in an accident.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Italy's minister of agriculture, Luca Zaia, said that "two glasses of wine cannot be the cause of a traffic crash," said Dr Stefano Di Bartolomeo. "Our findings show just the opposite -- the increase in risk is significant already after one to two glasses."
Di Bartolomeo, from the Università degli Studi di Udine, and fellow researchers in Italy looked at the effects of alcohol use and meal consumption in 326 drivers admitted to the emergency room for treatment after a crash. All had also been driving during the six to 18 hours before the crash.
The researchers asked what the patients had been doing before the crash. They then compared that to their activities before their previous, accident-free driving episode. Because eating can both slow the absorption of alcohol and make people sleepy, the researchers also looked at the effect of noshing on accident risk.
Drinking doubles crash risk
Overall, drinking more than doubled the risk of a crash, the team reports in BioMed Central's journal Public Health. Even having just one or two drinks in the six hours before driving increased the risk of a crash 2.17-fold. Having more than two drinks tripled the risk.
In general, meal consumption without alcohol use slightly reduced the likelihood of a crash. However, sleep-deprived people -- meaning they had gotten less sleep than usual over the last 24 hours -- were twice as likely to crash in the two hours after having a meal. The risk for drinking and sleep-deprivation combined was three-fold greater.
"Therefore it seems wise not to question the common belief that driving should be avoided after heavy meals until more evidence is gathered," Di Bartolomeo and his team write.
People who like wine and beer in moderation "should understand that there is no hysteria or prohibitionism behind strict 'alcohol and drive rules,' but sound scientific evidence," the researcher said. People should completely avoid alcohol before driving, he added.
"Eating is safe, provided we have slept as usual," he noted. "If otherwise, better take a short rest before setting out to drive again." - (Reuters Health, September 2009)
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