Safety Board Recommends Defining Legally Drunk With Lower Blood Alcohol Level

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

The government wants to drop the blood alcohol limit for being legally drunk in order to avoid drunk driving fatalities.

Currently, any driver found with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more is considered unfit to be behind the wheel, and can be arrested. But the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is recommending that all U.S states reduce the BAC threshold for legal drunkenness down to .05.

On Tuesday, the five-member NTSB board unanimously voted for the change in an effort to address the 10,000 people who die each year in drunk-driving accidents, and the nearly four million people who admit to getting behind the wheel while under the influence.

According to the board, one person dies in a car crash that involves a drunk driver each hour, and 20 more people are injured, including three who develop debilitating injuries.

(MORE: Task Force Recommends Screening All Adults for Alcohol Misuse)

But will the small change have an impact on driving while intoxicated? “There is a major difference, and people do not necessarily realize that,” says Bruce Goldman, the director of Substance Abuse Services at The Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks New York. “As a general guideline, we calculate about .02 to .03 BAC per drink per hour. To get to .08, that’s four drinks in an hour.”

Goldman says that people with a BAC of .05 are quite impaired. “[Drinkers] may not appear impaired, but it does not mean their ability to drive is unaltered. They may speak OK, but their judgement is not as good as it would be normally,” he says. NBC reported that after Australia implemented a similar drop in BAC, deaths from drunk driving also decline by 5% to 18%.

The NTSB has no authority to enforce their recommendation, and it remains up to states and the Department of Transportation to enforce it. And it’s likely there will be a significant amount of push-back. “This recommendation is ludicrous,” Sarah Longwell, the managing director of American Beverage Institute told NBC News. “Moving from 0.08 to 0.05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior.”

Aware of the potential backlash, the board is also recommending greater penalties for offenders and better use of emerging technologies to detect alcohol. They are also pushing for more research into developing technologies — such as breathalyzers linked to the ignition — that could be placed in cars to identify at-risk drinkers and prevent intoxicated people from getting on the road.

You can view the full report, here [PDF].

5 comments
SarahLiedel
SarahLiedel

For those of us who have lost a child to a drunk driver, this is not a ludicrous idea. My daughter was 14 years old and walking innocently down the side of the street on her way home from the local swimming area. A man coming from a graduation party struck her and killed her. After doing the research, I have found that the amount of alcohol related motor vehicle fatalities can be reduced by 18% just by lowering the legal blood alcohol content of irresponsible drivers. By no means am I condoning cell phone use and driving, neither is the NSTB. However, I wonder if my baby girl who had such a bright future ahead of her could have been included in the 18% saved if we had done this sooner.

J_Feezy
J_Feezy

It's just about money.

Zorbitor
Zorbitor

The health care and drug testing industries are unstoppable. Resistance is futile.

hivemaster
hivemaster

No.  The level now is fine.  This absolutely should NOT be done until all cars have cell phone signal inhibitors installed at the factory to prevent talking and texting while driving.

lenexalady
lenexalady

Ludicrous is an understatement.  Just another power grab by the government.  And another method to raise money.  Stop already.