How Many Car Crashes Are Caused By Alcohol – There are seemingly never-ending news stories involving a drunk driver mostly unscathed after getting into an accident. Meanwhile, their victims are fighting for their lives, or worse, already dead. The takeaway from this is that somehow being intoxicated will protect you from sustaining injuries in the event of a car accident or other trauma. As for why, the common idea is that the more relaxed you are in your drunken stupor, the less likely you are to get hurt. As to why, the general idea often put forward is that you will bend and twist into whatever shape misfortune puts you into without fighting it. Stiffening up prevents your ability to fold like a pretzel and makes all your internal bits tense. Thus, you snap like a twig and injure yourself more easily and more seriously. But is any of this really true? Are drunk drivers actually less likely to be injured than their much more responsible compatriots?

It turns out that there are indeed many studies on the subject that show you have a greater chance of surviving trauma if alcohol is in your system. That said, other studies show that the overall death rate can be as much as 2 times higher if you have alcohol on board. So, which is correct and does the whole floppy drunk thing protect you?

How Many Car Crashes Are Caused By Alcohol

How Many Car Crashes Are Caused By Alcohol

For starters, let’s look at the whole Flopsy the drunk thing. All neurons in your central nervous system can be either excited or inhibited by neurotransmitters. The more excited, the faster and stronger your muscles will react. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter. Thus, it gives your brain and spinal cord the ability to send electrical signals at high speed. Alcohol inhibits glutamate’s ability to do this by reducing ion flow through glutamate receptors. It can do this with blood alcohol levels as low as 0.03. The more alcohol you consume, the harder it is for you to control these muscles because glutamate can no longer transmit as easily. The result will make you walk like Gumby in an earthquake.

What Are The Chances Of Dying In A Car Crash?

So now let’s look at Floppy in a car wreck. When you have such an accident, there are three collisions – the car hits something; you hit the inside of the car; and your organs hit the inside of your body. So as the floppy-drink hypothesis goes, if you’re sober like a Catholic priest on Sunday, you’ll tense up, reduce your body’s absorption capacity to take hits, and make your rubber band like tendons and the like tighter and more likely to snap as a result; compare that to your inebriated counterpart who takes the path of least resistance, turning their arms and legs into a newly acquired airbag and taking full advantage of your stretchy innards doing their thing. On the surface, this all seems reasonable enough.

Unfortunately, due to the reduction in tension in your muscles, the argument can be made that your body’s impact with the car will be a greater force than if your arms or legs were tense and able to direct that force in a more controlled manner. That way, in the journal article

Published in ‘The American Surgeon’ in December 2013, researchers found that those with positive blood alcohol levels actually had an increased risk of head, face, chest and abdominal injuries. These injuries are obviously much more likely to kill you than arm or leg fractures, torn tendons and the like from stiffened arms and legs.

From this and other such studies, while the research so far is unfortunately far from definitive, the idea that you’re more likely to survive a car accident because you’re as discrete as your grandfather before Viagra is generally seen as somewhat suspect — or at least for now but under the category “more research is needed”.

Impaired Driving Car Crash Statistics In The United States Infographic

That said, there is certainly a growing body of evidence showing that having a large amount of alcohol in your system will give you a better chance of survival in a traumatic event. (Although it also drastically increases your chances of getting into the traumatic event in the first place, not just in cars, but doing anything – “Hold my beer” is a meme for a reason.)

Further indicating that it is not the root cause is that it turns out that the benefit here requires you to get through your alcohol-fueled traumatic event and reach medical help.

Whether you’re drunk or not, unsurprisingly, if you stay alive long enough to see the hospital, chances are you’ll survive the initial assault on your system. For everyone, the complications after, from how the body reacts to your injury, will now be your biggest enemy to whether you survive beyond. And this is what is believed to be where the real benefit comes from – how alcohol affects these bodily reactions.

How Many Car Crashes Are Caused By Alcohol

, found that those whose injuries were the most severe had a significantly better survival rate than those who did not if they had high levels of alcohol in their system. In addition, although intoxicated people were more likely to suffer severe head trauma and septic complications (infections), they still had better survival despite this.

Reasons Not To Ride In A Car Driven By A Drunk Person

Supporting this idea, researcher and injury epidemiologist Lee Friedman found in 2012 at the University of Illinois at Chicago that alcohol reduced mortality for all types of traumatic injuries—fractures, open wounds, and internal injuries to name a few. The only type of trauma that saw no benefit was burn patients. This makes sense given the immunosuppressive effects of alcohol and the known, fatal complication of infection in burn patients.

Dr. Friedman also showed that the benefits increased the higher the blood alcohol concentration, reducing mortality by up to 50% in some cases. Unfortunately, as he points out, no one knows for sure why this is so. There are currently not many studies looking at the physiological mechanisms involved in alcohol’s protective effects once the body is damaged.

Nevertheless, in an attempt to solve the mystery, Dr. Friedman took a stab at explaining why alcohol can help in these cases. In their 2014 study, “

, he hypothesized that the protective benefits came from how alcohol affects the many types of post-injury complications, specifically reducing the chances of having said complications in the first place.

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Looking at the data, of those in the study who died, 43.2% had at least one complication. Among the intoxicated, however, the cases of complications really decreased. For example, the intoxicated individuals saw a 23.5% reduction in heart complications and a 30% reduction in kidney function complications. Friedman says “The current analysis shows that there were reductions in medical complications that dominated the cardiovascular system and the kidneys, providing clues to solving this interesting and potentially life-saving puzzle”.

. Published in the European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery, these researchers found that mortality was almost twice as high in trauma patients who had alcohol in their system. Additionally, victims of penetrating trauma were more likely to be admitted without vital signs if they had alcohol in their system compared to those who did not. They also found that those who tested positive for alcohol were more likely to be admitted with low blood pressure (hypotension) and a lower GCS, (a measure of recall called the Glascow Coma Scale). They surmised that this might increase mortality.

As to why, they point out “Alcohol alters hemodynamic, metabolic, and inflammatory homeostasis after hemorrhage, attenuates the catecholamine surge after injury, and lowers the electrical threshold for ventricular arrhythmias … immunosuppressive effects from alcohol increase the risk of secondary infections ….” In English, you come in principle of bleeding more if you cut yourself when you are drunk because the body’s ability to constrict its blood vessels and clot is reduced. The risk of your heart going into fatal rhythms increases. Should you get an infection, your body’s ability to fight it will be reduced.

How Many Car Crashes Are Caused By Alcohol

However, the authors point out that there is a discordance in the studies that results in inconsistent results in the literature. They also say that their study adds greatly to the ongoing controversy on the issue and will of course require further study to reach any level of definitiveness.

Los Angeles Car Accident Statistics 2023

Very important to point out here is that when looking at these different studies, part of the controversy and seemingly inconsistent data is that very different results often depend on the type of trauma the researchers are studying – burns vs gunshots vs motor vehicle accidents, etc. Of course this shouldn’t come as a big surprise because there is no cure-all, and therefore it is not surprising that alcohol can be beneficial in some types of injuries, while not in others. It’s just a matter of whether you’ll be safer in, say, a car accident, or not if drunk isn’t yet completely clear when all factors are considered including death immediately after the first impact.

That said, while not for every traumatic situation, there is compelling evidence that mortality in certain types of patients can be reduced with the addition of a little old-fashioned moonshine.

Take traumatic brain injuries (TBI) for example. There are a lot of studies and reviews,

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