December 18, 2012

Drunken-driving researcher dies at 87

Herbert Moskowitz's work led to field sobriety tests and the setting of standard legal alcohol limits.

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Herbert Moskowitz, an experimental psychologist who conducted pioneering research on the effects of alcohol and drugs on driving, has died. He was 87.

Moskowitz's work helped produce standardized field sobriety tests and pushed policymakers to set lower legal limits for intoxicated driving in the U.S. and elsewhere.

A former professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, and California State University-Los Angeles, Moskowitz died Nov. 21 at his home in Los Angeles of complications from leukemia, his son, Ivan, said.

With a background in physics as well as psychology, Moskowitz devised rigorous experiments, including the early use of driving simulators, that demonstrated drivers' growing impairment as they consumed increasing amounts of alcohol. His research found that even a single drink -- a much smaller amount than previously believed -- could significantly slow the brain and raise drivers' risk of a crash.

"His work really helped raise public consciousness, in the U.S. and globally, about the potential of alcohol and drugs to affect traffic safety," said Richard Blomberg, a transportation safety expert whose firm, Dunlap & Associates, often competed with Moskowitz and his colleagues for research grants.

In the 1960s, as Moskowitz began his career, there were few specific legal restrictions on drinking and driving in the U.S. beyond a general prohibition that people should not get behind the wheel when intoxicated. Although it was widely understood that alcohol use could negatively affect motor vehicle operation, there was little scientific evidence to document the specific impairments it caused.

Moskowitz was especially well-known for studies showing the effects of alcohol on tasks that require divided attention, commonplace in driving.

Through the Southern California Research Institute, a nonprofit he founded, Moskowitz and his colleagues also conducted research that led to the uniform three-test battery of field sobriety exams in use by police departments across the U.S.

An expert witness in numerous court cases, he also studied the effects on driving and other skills of marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs, including antihistamines and antidepressants.


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