Detroit News: Ilitch School alum and WSU engineering professor partner to research drunk driving legal limit


In the name of science, Randall Commissaris serves Smirnoff. He prefers Tito's, which ranks higher on the vodka food chain, but he pours carefully measured doses of 80-proof Smirnoff when he's getting people buzzed and turning them loose at 70 mph to see how well they avoid impediments on the roadway. It should be noted that the roadway is in his basement, a virtual reality thoroughfare in a driving simulator created by an Ann Arbor company called BrandXR, which was co-founded by Ilitch School alumnus Mahmoud "Moody" Mattan (B.S. management '09). Commissaris, a Wayne State professor with a specialty in distracted driving, has conducted other tests in a modified 2001 Chevy Impala walled into a laboratory on campus. What he's concluded will not be popular with bars, restaurants or numerous drinkers: At 0.08%, the blood alcohol concentration threshold for what constitutes drunken driving in Michigan is too high. The pandemic has hung a detour sign on his research, and as a scientist, he wants to pour more vodka and run more tests. But he's seen enough from his subjects and multiple other studies to say the appropriate figure is 0.05% — and while there's no simple numerical road marker for drivers who use marijuana, they won't like his findings, either. "The biggest thing," he said, "is that between .05 and .08, there are deaths that could be avoided." Commissaris recognizes the large differences in body mass and tolerance, as well as the tiny one in reaction time between dead sober drivers and potentially deceased ones. On the BrandXR simulator, drivers wearing virtual reality headgear are asked to steer around disabled cars, and a typical recognition and response takes 320 milliseconds. Add alcohol, and a driver at 0.05% BAC takes 50 to 70 milliseconds longer. That's less time than it takes to blink. But combine slowed reflexes with the lessened vision, vigilance and coordination charted by the National Transportation Safety Board, and it was enough to persuade Utah to adopt the 0.05% standard two years ago. Commissaris' goal is to take his show on the road. Disassembled, the simulator fits comfortably in his 2014 Chevrolet Equinox. He wants to set it up at school assemblies or civic events, fill the tank of the principal or mayor to 0.05%, and then show in real-time and stark numbers how alcohol and driving don't mix. "We want to do research," he said, "but we also want to be part of the solution."

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