States urged to lower blood-alcohol limit for drunk driving

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The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that states reduce the blood-alcohol concentration level that qualifies as drunken driving to 0.05%. The NTSB believes that with this recommendation there will be a reduction in fatal DUI related crashes. The NTSB stated that the risk of a crash at 0.05% is approximately half as much as at 0.08%, which is the current limit in all states. According to the NTSB, thousands of people are killed or injured every year in alcohol related incidents where the drivers have not reached the legal standard for being drunk, but still have a reduced ability to see, make decisions, or operate a vehicle.

Deborah Hersman, the chairman of NTSB stated:

“This is critical because impaired driving remains one of the biggest killers in the United States. To make a bold difference will require bold action. But it can be done.”

The NTSB cannot actually make laws or regulations, the board can only make recommendations to states and the federal government. The board also recommended that everyone convicted of drunken driving be required to install an ignition interlock device, which works like a Breathalyzer, preventing the vehicle from starting without an alcohol test. These recommendations were focused on heavy drinkers and repeat DUI offenders. The NTSB hoped that their recommendations would provide a stricter standard both for casual, social drinkers and heavy drinkers as well.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving welcomed the board’s recommendation, however, MADD is pushing to eliminate drunken-driving entirely as opposed to pushing for a lower blood-alcohol content level. MADD would like to see better technology utilized to prevent convicted drunken drivers from operating a vehicle after drinking and to make law enforcement more visible.

Naturally, this recommendation faces opposition. Sarah Longwell, the managing director at the American Beverage Institute called the idea “ludicrous”, stating that:

“Moving from .08 to .05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior…nothing to stop hard-core drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.”

Based on government statistics, people with a BAC level of .05 are 38% more likely to be involved in a crash than those who have not been drinking. People with a BAC of .08 are 169% more likely.

According to the NTSB, more than 100 countries have set the drunken-driving BAC levels to 0.05%, leaving the United States as one of the few developed countries with a higher BAC level. Lowering the limit could substantially reduce highway deaths. According to the NTSB, over a ten year period in Europe, traffic deaths attributable to drunken driving were reduced by more than half when the BAC level was reduced from 0.08% to 0.05%, a reduction of nearly half.

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