NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Watch out for that glass of wine at dinner or those two beers when celebrating your colleague's birthday after work if you're planning to drive.
Italian research shows that having as little as one or two drinks within six hours before getting behind the wheel of a car increases the risk of being involved in an accident.
"The increase in risk is significant already after 1-2 glasses," Dr. Stefano Di Bartolomeo told Reuters Health.
Researchers from the University of Udine in northeastern Italy looked at the effects of alcohol use and meal consumption in 326 drivers who were admitted to the emergency room for treatment after a crash.
The researchers asked what the patients had been doing before the crash and compared that to their activities before their previous, accident-free driving episode.
Overall, drinking more than doubled the risk of a crash, the team reported in BioMed Central's journal Public Health.
They found that even having just one or two drinks in the six hours before driving increased the risk of a crash 2.17-fold. Having more than two drinks tripled the risk.
In general, eating a meal without alcohol slightly reduced the likelihood of a crash.
But sleep-deprived people -- meaning people who had less sleep than usual over the last 24 hours -- were twice as likely to crash in the two hours after having a meal.
The risk for drinking and sleep-deprivation combined was three-fold greater.
"Therefore it seems wise not to question the common belief that driving should be avoided after heavy meals until more evidence is gathered," concluded Di Bartolomeo and his team.
But he said people who like wine and beer in moderation "should understand that there is no hysteria or prohibitionism behind strict 'alcohol and drive rules," but sound scientific evidence" and people should totally avoid alcohol before driving.
Reporting by Anne Harding, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith