The National Transportation Safety Board is looking to lower the legal blood alcohol concentration limit to .05%. At the moment, .05% is much below the legal limit of .08% for the crime of Driving While Intoxicated under New York State’s Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1192.3.
The NTSB’s report call “Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving was released 5 years ago, but suddenly garnering much attention in the Capital. With the growth of the interstate highway system and proliferation of cars, it became harder to turn away, especially once the Department of Transportation reported in 1968 that up to 25,000 Americans died annually because of drunken driving. By the 1980s, thanks to organizations like Remove Intoxicated Drivers and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, angry citizens, many of whom had lost loved ones in alcohol-related crashes, pushed the issue front and center. States passed over 700 new anti-drunken driving laws between 1981 and 1986 alone, tightening loopholes and strengthening penalties. By 2004, all 50 states had lowered their legal blood alcohol level, which had been as high as 0.15 percent, to the current level of 0.08 percent.
Meanwhile, drunken driving control had become a success story. Annual deaths, now termed “alcohol-impaired-driver-related crashes,” had declined from 25,000 to under 10,000 by 2011.
But can we do better? The safety board’s report says yes, arguing that “success in addressing this safety issue has plateaued.” It points to the fact that one-third of highway deaths are still alcohol-related, and that known effective strategies for lowering injuries and deaths because of drunken driving are underutilized.
Since the turn of the Century we have several changes in laws pertaining to drinking and driving or “drunk driving”. These changes include the mandatory installation of Ignition Interlock Devices, Increased and even “Lifetime” driver’s license suspensions, higher fines and surcharges, and mandatory drug & alcohol evaluations.
Now, and finally, we are looking at a lower level for allowable Blood Alcohol Concentration. At the .05% recommended limit, an average person may only consume roughly 2-3 drinks before reaching the legal limit. This allows for people to drink socially, or have a glass of wine at dinner without committed a crime.
In our opinion, lowering the legal limit for Drinking and Driving is a much need and will certainly save lives. Based on data from other countries that have gone to 0.05 percent, Robert Voas and James C. Fell of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation believe that this is possible, both by discouraging social drinking and driving and creating a “general deterrent effect” among the whole population.
According to Barron Lerner, MD, the backlash to the N.T.S.B.’s proposal is predictable. The beverage and hospitality industries, which make money from alcohol, will argue that such a restrictive law will deprive Americans of the pleasurable experience of enjoying a drink or two with one’s meal. Libertarians will decry the new proposal as “neo-Prohibitionist,” another example of the “nanny state” depriving us of our basic liberties.
But here are a few reasons that 0.05 percent makes sense according to Lerner. First, almost everyone is impaired at that blood level, with reductions in performance in areas such as braking, steering, lane changing and judgment. Do you want these people coming at you on the road?
Second, it takes some work to get to 0.05 percent. It is overwhelmingly more likely to happen if someone is trying to get buzzed as opposed to having a couple of drinks over a leisurely dinner.
Third, portable breathalyzers are easily available and relatively cheap. If you are out drinking, check your level before you get in the car and, if you are at 0.05 percent or higher, sit back down, eat something and recheck yourself in an hour. It’s not that much of an imposition if lives are at stake.
Remember, drinking and driving poses a risk to everyone on the road. If you decide to drink alcohol before driving please do so responsibly.