What is Buzzed Driving? How Does it Compare to Drunk Driving?


    Imagine being out with friends at a bar, having a great time, and catching up on life. A few drinks later, it is time to go. You hop in your car and start to drive home. You feel fine. You are not drunk, just buzzed. But is it really safe to drive when you have had a few drinks? This situation is probably familiar to most people. While you might think little of having a few drinks and hopping into the car, you should make sure you have all facts as you decide your next course of action. Buzzed driving has been the cause of devastating car accidents in the past, and in the eyes of victims and family members, buzzed driving is drunk driving. As personal injury law experts, we’ve seen our fair share of tragic accidents, so keep reading for the full breakdown of buzzed driving, what it is, and the legal consequences.

    What is Buzzed Driving? 

    Buzzed driving is when you are under the influence of alcohol, but you are not legally drunk. You might not feel like you are impaired, but alcohol can still affect your coordination, judgment, and reaction time. That means it is more difficult to drive safely. Although it’s a common misconception that it is perfectly safe to drive buzzed, most people underestimate what it feels like to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit. 

    If you have had any friends with a personal breathalyzer, you may have tried the device out of curiosity after a few drinks and been shocked to see the results. For the purposes of the law, there are only acceptable blood alcohol concentration levels and unacceptable BAC levels which are set by the state statutes. How you feel about your level of intoxication is highly variable, highly subjective, and deeply unreliable as a means to decide when to drive.

    The effects of alcohol are cumulative. Even if you have just a little, your performance is still significantly impaired. Every year, thousands of people are injured or killed as a result of buzzed driving. Recognizing the danger it poses is important to making our roads safe.

    Even though you may feel "safe to drive," you can be in serious legal trouble for driving buzzed.  Driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence ( DUI ) refers to driving a vehicle when your ability to do so is impaired by alcohol or drugs. 

    Drunk driving is illegal and dangerous — never assume that you will get away with it. Make plans for a safe way home before you start drinking. Alternatives to driving include taxis, rideshare services, calling a friend or family member, or using a designated driver.

    Never drive buzzed: Take charge of your safety and make smart choices to avoid costly or deadly consequences.

    What is Blood Alcohol Content?

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    Blood alcohol content (BAC) is the measure of the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream at a given time. When you drink, your body begins breaking down alcohol; however, the alcohol concentration in your blood remains unchanged until the body breaks down the alcohol at the same rate it is being absorbed. This process takes roughly an hour, although it may be longer or shorter. Alcohol consumption (including beer, wine, and liquor) creates a state of inebriation due to its effects on your brain and central nervous system. While one drink can make you less than sober, it depends on your body size and other factors. On average, the U.S. Department of Transportation defines 0.08 blood alcohol content as illegal for drivers.

    The level of blood alcohol content that qualifies as drunk driving varies from state to state, so it can be difficult to know when it is safe to get behind the wheel after drinking. The Illinois blood alcohol level limit is also 0.08, but a driver can still be charged with a DUI with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08 if there has been other evidence of impaired driving. 

    As a result, some drivers may brush off their drinks, thinking they are sober enough to drive. Unfortunately, this can lead to accidents and injuries. To avoid reckless driving and ensure safety on the road, know what constitutes buzzed driving and its risks.

    What is the Difference Between Buzzed Driving and Drunk Driving?

    You may be operating under the preconception that there is a legal difference between drunk driving and buzzed driving. After all, popular culture and general consensus would seem to support this idea, but it is entirely incorrect. The law does not distinguish between buzzed driving and drunk driving because these two terms refer to entirely subjective states. 

    Driving drunk can lead to accidents and injuries as it decreases your motor skills, vision, coordination, and ability to pay attention. You are also more likely to follow roads automatically and without careful attention, which can constitute reckless driving. All in all, drunk driving remains a public safety problem, with 11.6% of roadway fatalities attributed to the practice. 

    The only real difference is societal perception. It can seem like a lesser crime when a person is caught driving while “buzzed” compared to when they are drunk. This is likely due to the perceived lower risk of harm. Despite the lower perceived risk of harm compared to drunk driving, buzzed driving is still dangerous and causes thousands of accidents each year. This is due to the similar effects of alcohol on the body, regardless of blood alcohol content. 

    As people drink, their perception of risk lowers. They are more likely to take risks, and their judgment when operating a motor vehicle becomes significantly impaired. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause this effect. Buzzed drivers are still affected by these drunken effects and are at risk for the same types of accidents as drunk drivers, such as:

    • Head-on collisions
    • Turns/curves accidents
    • Slope/intersection crashes
    • Nighttime crashes

    Unfortunately, the difference between buzzed and drunk driving is poorly understood. This has led to the introduction of the term “sober-driving.” Though not officially recognized, some people use this term to refer to driving while buzzed.

    In addition, when comparing buzzed driving to drunk driving, it is important to recognize the significant risks associated with even a small amount of alcohol and the impact it has on driving ability. When your body has alcohol in it, it affects your physical and mental abilities. Depending on your body, this can include:

    • Slowed reaction time
    • Slowed reflexes
    • Poor judgment
    • Impaired vision
    • Poor depth perception

    Differences in Legal Consequences Between Buzzed Driving and Drunk Driving?

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    We have already briefly touched on the fact that the legal consequences of buzzed driving do not differ from the legal consequences of drunk driving accidents in any definite or substantive way. “Buzzed” driving is not a term with any legal worth. Definitions of what buzzed driving means differ from person to person, and depending on that definition, the consequences for buzzed driving and drunk driving can be exactly the same. 

    There are various subjective tests of intoxication which can be administered by law enforcement in addition to the breathalyzer test. Some people are of the belief that passing these tests or “seeming” well-composed and sober has some effect on the legal consequences of drunk driving. The reality is that these subjective tests and your personal level of alcohol tolerance have no bearing on the legal consequences that you can face. 

    If anything, you may face legal consequences at a lower blood alcohol content level than you may anticipate because even if you are not over the legal limit, you can still be charged with a DUI if you have a BAC over a certain and modest level and merely present as impaired.

    Getting Professional Legal Guidance

    If you or a loved one are the victims of an accident involving a buzzed or drunk driver, consider seeking legal counsel. For years, the attorneys at Palermo Law Group have been helping car crash victims in Oak Brook and throughout the Chicagoland area as they navigate their way toward monetary compensation for their damages. Contact Palermo Law Group today to discuss your case.


    Disclaimer: Palermo Law Group specializes in personal injury law. For more information on criminal law regarding intoxicated driving, please refer to the Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS).


    Mario Palermo is the Founder and Lead Attorney at Palermo Law Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. For the past 26 years, he has worked tirelessly to help injury victims and their families in their times of need. He is a seasoned authority on civil litigation, and also a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a prestigious group of trial lawyers who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Mr. Palermo has been named a “Leading Lawyer” by his peers in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

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