The National Transportation Safety Board recommended last week that states lower the blood-alcohol content level that constitutes drunken driving from .08 to .05, a suggestion that has been met with acclaim and criticism.
The board believes that if the limit is lowered, the number of fatal crashes involving alcohol also will be lowered.
Additionally, the board reports that at an .05 level, some motorists begin having difficulty with depth perception and other visual function, and that cognitive abilities become impaired at .07.
Each year, nearly 10,000 people die in alcohol-related accidents, according to the board. That is an improvement over the nearly 20,000 people who died in alcohol-related accidents 30 years ago, but there’s still a long way to go.
The board’s recommendation of lowering the level is a bold step in getting the number of alcohol-related fatalities down to zero, but it may be a bit misguided.
Authorities have long urged people: Don’t drink and drive. But, many still have a drink – whether it’s a glass of wine at dinner or a casual drink with friends – and then drive. What’s important is whether or not they drink responsibly.
A spokeswoman for the American Beverage Institute called the move “ludicrous.”
“Moving from .08 to .05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior,” she said. “Further restricting the moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hardcore drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.”
Aiken County Coroner Tim Carlton said he would support the move but is skeptical of whether it would work.
“Typically, the folks we see in these DUI fatalities are way, way higher than the current legal limit,” he said, adding that many drunk drivers killed in accidents typically have blood alcohol levels of .10 to .175.
The last move that took the legal limit from .10 to .08 took 21 years for the entire country to implement, with the last state getting on board in 2004.
We believe the time, money and legislative efforts would be better spent focusing on and implementing some of the National Transportation Safety Board’s other recommendations.
These recommendations include technological moves, such as developing and deploying in-vehicle detection technology, and requiring ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders; and administrative moves, such as increasing the use of high-visibility enforcement and targeting and addressing repeat offenders.