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The effects of breath alcohol concentration on postural control.

The effects of breath alcohol concentration on postural control.

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Fiorentino, D. D. (2018). The effects of breath alcohol concentration on postural control. Traffic Injury Prevention, 19(4), 352–357. https://doi.org/10.1080/15389588.2018.1423561

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Background: Two of the three standardized field sobriety tests that US law enforcement uses at roadside checks have a postural equilibrium component to them. Those tests have been validated to detect impairment caused by blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .08 g/dL or above. Many medical and traffic safety associations support a lower limit, and one state, Utah, has passed a law to lower the limit to .05 g/dL. Many studies have examined the effects of alcohol on postural control (of which postural equilibrium is a component), with a consensus emerging that impairment is usually found at BACs greater than .06 g/dL. Most of these studies, however, had a relatively small number of subjects, usually between 10 and 30. The current study collected data from a much larger sample.

Objective: The objective of this study was to provide additional evidence that posture control is negatively affected at BACs greater than .06 g/dL or breath alcohol concentrations (BrACs) of .06 g/210 L.

Method: This was a between-subjects study, with BrAC group as the independent variable (five levels: .00 g/210 L, .04 g/210 L, .06 g/210 L, .08 g/210 L, and .10 g/210 L); four measures of postural control as the dependent variables; and age, height, and weight as the covariates. Posture control was measured with a force-sensing platform connected to a computer. The feet’s center of pressure (CoP) on the platform was recorded and the corresponding movement of the body in the anterior-posterior and lateral planes was derived. Participants (N = 96) were randomly assigned to one of the BrAC groups. Positive BrACs groups were compared to the zero BrAC group. Data were examined with hierarchical multiple regression.

Results: Adjusted for age, height, and weight, the main effect of Lateral CoP with eyes open was not statistically significant. There was a statistically significant main effect of alcohol on Anterior-Posterior CoP Excursion with eyes open and with eyes closed, and Lateral CoP Excursion with eyes closed. For all three of those variables, only BrACs of .08 and .10 g/210 L produced differences against zero BrAC. Although the main effect of alcohol on Lateral CoP Excursion with eyes open was not statistically significant, the contrasts between zero and .08 and zero and .10 g/210L BrAC were in the hypothesized direction. 

Conclusion: The current study did not directly address the issue of whether the sobriety tests are sensitive to BrACs of .05 g/210 L or above; rather, it provides additional evidence that postural control, one of the components of those tests, is relatively unaffected by BrACs lower than .08 g/210 L. Additional research is needed on the diagnostic characteristics of the sobriety tests at BrACs lower than .08 g/210 L.