NTSB Proposes National Reduction in Legal Limit for Drunken Driving to .05 Percent BAC
The focus on alcohol-impaired driving has led to many changes in recent decades, which include the reduction in national blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels from .10 to .08, increased law enforcement use of saturation patrols, and sobriety checkpoints and stiffer penalties including mandatory minimum jail terms. Despite the many changes to discourage DUI accidents, intoxicated drivers still claim the lives of 10,000 people per year and cause injury to many more. In an effort to further reduce the number of alcohol-related collisions, the National Transportation Safety Board announced a recommendation this week that all states lower the threshold at which a driver is considered impaired from .08 to .05 percent BAC.
The recommendation is based on a similar action taken by the European Union that reportedly resulted in a fifty percent reduction in drunken driving fatalities. Federal regulators hope that cutting the level at which a driver may be convicted of a "per se DUI," which is strictly based on BAC level, will lower the number of fatal collisions caused by drivers who have consumed alcohol prior to driving.
The proposed DUI/DWI accident reduction proposal has been criticized by the beverage industry for focusing on moderate drinkers rather than those who actually exhibit impaired driving ability. In a statement released in response to the NTSB proposal, the American Beverage Institute contends that a typical female drinker will have a BAC above .05 percent after a single drink but that seventy percent of DUI accidents that cause fatalities involve drivers with a BAC of .15 percent or higher. This level of BAC generally would involve approximately 6-7 drinks according to the organization. The beverage association suggests that the NTSB should be focusing on hard core binge drinkers who cause the majority of alcohol-related fatalities rather than responsible adults who drink in moderation and obey current BAC restrictions.
The NTSB also made several other recommendations including the following:
- Development of a separate system of courts that exclusively handle DUI/DWI cases
- Providing incentives to states to adopt mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices (IIDs) before those convicted of drunken driving may be allowed to resume driving.
Changes during the last three decades have resulted in reduction in fatal DUI accidents from half to a third of all traffic-related fatalities. The absolute number of fatalities also has declined from over 21,000 to 10,000 per year. While it is still unclear whether states or the federal government will adopt this reduction in BAC level, the reality is that more progress needs to be made to protect those who travel Georgia highways from alcohol-impaired drivers.
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