Two Australian studies compared the impairment caused by alcohol consumption with
the impairment caused by mental fatigue from being awake for long hours. They gave a
group of subjects cognitive and reaction tests after consuming varying amounts of
alcohol. To no one’s surprise, the more alcohol the subjects consumed, the worse their
reaction times and cognitive abilities. That is why we have drinking and driving laws.
Most jurisdictions set a limit of .08 per cent blood alcohol level for drinking and driving.
The Australian researchers gave subjects the same cognitive and reaction tests, but
instead of giving them alcohol, they kept them awake for long hours. They then
compared test scores. What they found was that individuals who had been awake for 17
straight hours had the same mental abilities and reaction times as individuals who had a
.05 per cent blood alcohol level. Individuals that had been awake for 21 hours had the
same scores as those with .08 per cent blood alcohol level, and those that had been awake
for 24 hours had the same scores as those with 10 per cent blood alcohol.
This research is widely accepted and has been taken into account in a recent New Jersey
law called Maggie’s Law. This law makes it a criminal offence to drive after being
awake for more than 24 hours. Being awake for more than 24 hours is treated the same
as being legally drunk.
Source: Pat Byrne,

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