Blog Post

Do we really need to lower the legal alcohol limit?

May 17, 2013

    Paige Baschuk, Daily Briefing

    I could not get behind the wheel after one cocktail under a proposal from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that would lower the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level for driving from .08 to .05.

    The proposal—unanimously approved by the five-member NTSB board this week—has drawn a lot of criticism for being too restrictive. American Beverage Institute Managing Director Sarah Longwell called the recommendations "ludicrous," and members of the restaurant industry say they will lose major profits if the proposal is passed.

    But from a health perspective, the evidence in favor of the proposal is pretty compelling.

    NTSB officials say that the risk of causing a car accident is 39% higher when a driver has a 0.05 BAC than when he or she completely sober. At a BAC level of .08, the risk increased by at least 100%.

    More than 100 countries have adopted the .05 standard or lower, according to NTSB. In Europe, drunk driving deaths decreased by more than 50% within 10 years of implementing the 0.05 standard.

    NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman says that 10,000 U.S. residents die each year in drunk-driving accidents, and another 170,000 are injured. "Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable," Hersman said at a press conference this week. On the group's Twitter account, NTSB has been using the phrase "#ReachingZero" to promote the proposal.

    "Alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes," Hersman said, adding that the deaths "can and should be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will."

    But that will may not exist among state lawmakers, experts told Fox News. The NTSB has no authority to enforce their proposal; rather, it is up to each state to pass legislation implementing the new BAC level and to enforce it.

    And even if states do cotton on to the lower limit, it could take a long time before it translates into action. According to NBC News, it took 21 years for every state to reduce the BAC level from .10 to .08.

    An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly cited the proposed limit as 0.5 in one reference. The proposed limit is 0.05 BAC. We apologize for any confusion.

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