The influence of alcohol (0.5‰) on the control and manoeuvring level of driving behaviour, finding measures to assess driving impairment: A simulator study

Joke H van Dijken*, J.L. Veldstra, Aurora J A E van de Loo, Joris C Verster, Nick van der Sluiszen, Annemiek Vermeeren, J.G. Ramaekers, K.A. Brookhuis, Dick de Waard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: The influence of psychoactive substances on driving performance and traffic safety has been extensively studied. Research on the influence of alcohol at the control level of behaviour (i.e. automated processes) has been well established and has shown that the ability to operate a vehicle decreases with rising alcohol levels. However, results one level higher at the manoeuvring level (i.e. conscious processes), are inconsistent. The cur-rent study aimed to replicate findings on the influence of alcohol on the control level of behaviour and investigate effects on the manoeuvring level in order to find suitable mea-sures to assess driving impairment. Method: The study was double-blind, placebo-controlled with a counterbalanced treat-ment order and a two-way crossover design. Thirty participants performed tasks in a driv-ing simulator under the influence of alcohol (0.5 parts per thousand) and a placebo. In the driving tasks the control level of behaviour (swerving, average speed, and speed variation) was investigated, as well as the manoeuvring level of behaviour (distance to other traffic during an overtak-ing manoeuvre, reaction time to a traffic light turning amber, and response to a suddenly merging car). Results: As expected, alcohol affected the control level of behaviour negatively. Participants swerved more and showed more speed variation after alcohol intake. The manoeuvring level of driving behaviour was also affected by alcohol. The distance to other drivers during an overtaking manoeuvre was smaller under the influence of alcohol. Results on reaction time were however less straightforward. Reaction time increased significantly under the influence of alcohol when reacting to a traffic light but not in reaction to a car unexpectedly merging into traffic. When analysing behaviour in reaction to these different events in more detail it became clear that they were responded to in varying manners, making it dif-ficult to find an average impairment measure. Conclusions: The deteriorating effect of alcohol at the control level of driving behaviour was replicated, confirming the suitability of the standard deviation of lateral position and the variation in speed as measures of impairment. At the manoeuvring level, the kept distance to the leading car during an overtaking manoeuvre appeared to be a suitable mea-sure to assess impairment as well as reaction time to a traffic light. The current study also confirms the difficulties in evaluating complex driving behaviour and the need for more research on this subject. (c) 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-127
Number of pages9
JournalTransportation Research Part F-Traffic Psychology and Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Alcohol
  • Control level
  • Driving performance
  • Driving safety
  • Driving simulator
  • Manoeuvring level
  • RISK

Cite this