Drinking and driving kills 28 people a day in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
One Detroit Mercy student is working to change that.
Tariq Masri-Zada, a senior Biology major, is researching the effects of even small amounts of alcohol and drugs on response time of drivers. A ReBUILDetroit student, Masri-Zada is driven in this research because his uncle was killed by a drunk driver.
ReBUILDetroit is a National Institutes of Health-funded undergraduate program with the goal of increasing the number of underrepresented populations in the field of scientific research. He conducts his research at Wayne State University, the research partner of ReBUILDetroit, under the mentorship of Randall Commissaris, associate professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Using a virtual headset and a driving simulation device, Commissaris’ research lab records a subject’s crash avoidance reaction speed before and after administering alcohol to the subject. The data shows the introduction of even a small amount of an intoxicant has an impact on reaction time.
The impact is significant enough that their research has been featured in two publications and Masri-Zada is hoping to use the findings to push for a lowering of the federal blood-alcohol concentration at which a person can legally drive. The current level is .08%; he would like to see it set at .05%.
“Our work was featured in the Detroit News in February 2021, and we have been sharing the data with several policy influencers to promote change,” said Masri-Zada.
This sharing included a Zoom session Commissaris hosted with Megan Kiefer, a legislative aide for the Michigan House of Representatives; Michael Tobias, executive director of Michigan Alcohol Policy; and Thomas Page ’71, ’76, a retired police officer and legal expert on alcohol and marijuana effects on driving who is also a Detroit Mercy alumnus.
Masri-Zada believes that when people review the facts, it will have an impact on their decision making.
“There’s no rebuttal to the hard facts,” he said. “You can’t argue with hard facts.”
The facts are indeed unsettling: According to the NHTSA, one alcohol-related driving death happens every 52 minutes, adding up to more than 10,000 deaths a year. That is approximately one-third of all traffic-related deaths.
But to Masri-Zada, numbers don’t tell the stories of loss.
“I feel like when I’m doing my research, I’m honoring my uncle and I’m also trying to protect future lives,” he said. “It’s very important that I’m not the only one spreading awareness. If we all understand the risks, people can stop drunk driving.”