NTSB urges lowering the BAC for drunk driving from .08 to .05

The National Transportation Safety Board has just released a new recommendation that states should lower the blood alcohol content allowed in drivers before they can be charged with drunk driving. The current allowable level, .08 percent, was passed state by state in the 1970s and 1980s from a previous level of .10. Now, the NTSB wants to lower that even more to .05 percent.

The proposal is not without its detractors, of course. The American Beverage Institute, a lobbying group for the food and beverage industry, called it "ludicrous." But Mothers Against Drunk Driving is withholding support, as well.

"Moving from .08 to .05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior," said a spokesperson for the American Beverage Institute after the announcement. "Further restriction of moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hard-core drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel."

MADD seems to be questioning the NTSB’s policy priorities. While it won’t fight the proposal, but by changing in the legal blood alcohol content, one MADD representative said, the agency seems to be “trying to focus on a group of people who are more social drinkers, who haven’t been targeted in a while.”

The NTSB has some rational basis for the change. The main reason is that number of drunk driving fatalities -- which account for around 30 percent of all fatal traffic accidents -- appears to be holding steady at around 10,000 a year, after a big drop from an average of 21,000 a year before the blood alcohol level was lowered to .08. Second, most other industrialized countries use .05, and the NTSB says they have much lower rates of drunk driving.

The third reason is statistics. According to the New York Times report, government statistics say drivers with blood alcohol concentrations of .05 are 38 percent more likely to be in accidents than those who did not drink. Of course, the same statistics say that drivers at .08 are 169 percent more likely to crash than non-drinkers.

This is not the NTSB’s only proposal for cracking down on drunk driving. It also favors installing blood alcohol sensors into every car.

What do you think? Is tightening up drunk driving laws the best way to reduce highway fatalities, or is it just a way to sweep harmless social drinkers off the roads and into jail?

Source: The New York Times, "Safety Board Endorses Lower Legal Alcohol Limit for Drivers," Matthew L. Wald, May 14, 2013

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