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The NTSB Wants the U.S. Drunk-Driving Threshold to be 0.05 – Good Idea or Bad? [POLL]

(Steve Eason, Getty Images)
(Steve Eason, Getty Images)

I’m sure I’ll hear the usual “government telling us what to do” stories with this one.

The NTSB is recommending that all 50 states lower the threshold of alcohol in your bloodstream with which you drive from the standard 0.08 to 0.05.

Normally I’d say, “what the hell!” What’s wrong with 0.08? God knows it’s been used as the standard for a number of years. Why change it now?”

And besides, there are any number of “what ifs” associated with this.

What if you’re taking a medication that would raise your BAC? What if you’ve only had one drink and your alcohol tolerance is quite high?
What if, what if, what if…

According to this:

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all 50 states lower the threshold from 0.08 blood-alcohol content (BAC) to 0.05.

The idea is part of a safety board initiative outlined in a staff report and approved by the panel to eliminate drunk driving, which accounts for about a third of all road deaths.

The board acknowledged that there was “no silver bullet,” but that more action is needed.

NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman progress has been made over the years to reduce drunk driving, including a range of federal and state policies, tougher law enforcement, and stepped up national advocacy. But she said too many people are still dying on America’s roads in alcohol-related crashes.

Lowering the rate to 0.05 would save about 500 to 800 lives annually, the safety board report said.

Under current law, a 180-pound male typically will hit the 0.08 threshold after four drinks over an hour, according to an online blood alcohol calculator published by the University of Oklahoma. That same person could reach the 0.05 threshold after two to three drinks over the same period, according to the calculator.

Many factors besides gender and weight influence a person’s blood alcohol content level. And many states outlaw lower levels of inebriation when behind the wheel.

The board also recommended on Tuesday that states vastly expand laws allowing police to swiftly confiscate licenses from drivers who exceed the blood alcohol limits.

And it is pushing for laws requiring all first-time offenders to have ignition locking devices that prevent cars from starting until breath samples are analyzed.

In the early 1980s, when grass-roots safety groups brought attention to drunk driving, many states required a 0.15 BAC rate to demonstrated intoxication.

But over the next 24 years, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups pushed states to adopt the 0.08 BAC standard, the last state falling in line in 2004.

The number of alcohol-related highway fatalities, meanwhile, dropped from 20,000 in 1980 to 9,878 in 2011, the NTSB said.

In recent years, about 31 percent of all fatal highway accidents are attributed to alcohol impairment, the NTSB said. But most of the decline in highway deaths occurred in the first decade.

“I think .05 is going to come. How long it takes to get there, we don’t know. But it will happen,” said the NTSB’s Robert Molloy, who helped guide the staff report.
For some, the vote struck close to home.

NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt noted that one of his relatives had been killed by a drunk driver, and another is serving a 15-year sentence in a related death.

Many of the recommendations “are going to be unpopular,” Sumwalt said, “but if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re not going to make any difference.”

The NTSB timed the recommendation to coincide with the deadliest alcohol-related highway crash in U.S. history.

On May 14, 1988, a drunk driver drove his pickup the wrong way on Interstate 71 near Carrollton, Kentucky. The truck hit a school bus, killing 24 children and three adults and injured 34 others.

I make a distinction between the laws that affect you and you alone from the laws that affect you and everyone else. Generally I disagree with the laws that try to protect you from yourself. Common sense should be the yardstick. If not, it’s on you.

But when they involve you and everyone else that I look at it and say, “perhaps this one isn’t a bad idea.” And let’s face it, we’ve all known people who’ve been involved in an accident with a drunk driver.

Lowering the BAC might not stop drunk driving from happening altogether; but it sends a message that even the slightest impairment when driving won’t be tolerated.

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