People often assume that drunk drivers know they are drunk and decide to take the risk anyway. While this certainly does happen, it is important to note that it is not always the case. Many people who think they are sober enough to drive safely and responsibly just do not realize how drunk they really are.
When they get DUI charges, they cannot believe it happened to them. They did not take any risks on purpose. They thought they were acting safely and within the bounds of the law.
How can this happen? There are many ways, but one study suggests that your social group may play an important role.
How it works
The study started out by looking at just how drunk people were and how drunk they thought they were. The idea was to determine if an intoxicated individual actually has any idea of his or her level of intoxication while it is taking place.
After all, plenty of people talk about doing things they regret the night before, or they say things like "I cannot believe how intoxicated I got" when facing a hangover. This suggests that they do not really understand it at the time, which means they are not necessarily taking any risks on the road intentionally.
The study backed this up. Researchers asked people how drunk they thought they were, using a 1-10 scale, and then gave them breath tests to see how close they got. More often than not, they were not close at all. In fact, Science Magazine said that they were "totally unable to estimate their level of drunkenness."
Moreover, the researchers found some trends regarding social settings and the groups that the people spent time with while drinking. They found that:
- If people were in a group of other individuals who were "more highly intoxicated," then they felt like they were less drunk.
- If people were in a group of other individuals who were sober, they felt like they were more drunk.
Much of it just has to do with comparison. Someone around a group of very drunk, rowdy people in a bar may feel like he or she just has a little buzz. If you took that same person and put him or her in a classroom or a church, full of completely sober people, he or she may suddenly feel like that buzz is full-on intoxication.
Of course, the risk here is that an inaccurate perception could increase the odds of drunk driving. When leaving a setting where everyone else is even more intoxicated, you could inadvertently assume you feel fine to drive when you're not. If this happens, make sure you understand your DUI defense options.