You had a few drinks at the bar, but you feel fine. As you get behind the wheel, you might wonder if you’re able to drive. You don’t think you’re over the legal limit, but you in danger whenever you’re feeling the effects.

Operating under the influence (OUI) is a blanket term in Massachusetts for operating a motor vehicle on public roads while being under the influence of substances. If you’re too impaired to maintain a sufficient level of safety, you could be looking at problems even if you’re under the legal limit.

Testing the limits

Chemical tests like breathalyzers measure the alcohol in your body using your blood alcohol content (BAC). You can get charged with an OUI if your BAC is over the legal limit of 0.08 percent, or 0.02 if you’re under the age of 21. It can take up to an hour after you stop drinking for your BAC to finish increasing, so just because you’re done drinking doesn’t likely mean you’re safe to drive any time soon. And even if you fall within the acceptable limits on a chemical test, an officer can still arrest you if they think you’re too impaired to be on the road.

Avoiding impacts

Solid concentration, reliable reaction times and sound judgment are essential when it comes to safe driving. Alcohol can quickly chip away at these foundations, taking the operation of your vehicle from difficult to downright dangerous:

  • Vision: Your vision can become blurry and lagged when you’re laden with the effects of alcohol. After a few drinks, you might have a harder time seeing other cars, focusing on road lines or seeing pedestrians.
  • Reaction time: Even when you do see things coming, your response time is probably much slower. If a pedestrian crosses the street in front of you, it could take your brain longer to register the event, and longer still to send a message to your foot to hit the brakes.
  • Coordination: Even the actions you do perform could get sloppy since alcohol can have a dramatic effect on your motor skills. In the most extreme state of inebriation, you could have trouble opening a car door or getting the key into the ignition, but impairment can start much earlier with hands slipping on the wheel or your foot sliding past the brake pedal.
  • Concentration: Multitasking is an inherent part of driving. Monitoring your place on the road, changes in conditions and staying aware of other people can all be crucial and complicated parts of driving. Alcohol will likely quickly take away your ability to concentrate on so many factors at once and affect your ability to judge situations correctly.

Make sure you know how alcohol affects you and interacts with any other medications or substances you may be using. Knowing the signs of impairment and staying aware can make a difference when it’s time to figure out how to get home at the end of the night.