In the weeks since the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) submitted a recommendation to lower the legal BAC limit for drivers from 0.08 to 0.05 BAC, commentary from politicians, lobbying groups, the media, and the general public has been wide-spread.
The general consensus is that alcohol-related accidents are still far too frequent in the U.S.: over 1.4 million Americans are arrested each year for driving while impaired and 9,878 people were killed in drunk driving accidents in 2011.
But that’s where the agreement seems to end. The NTSB’s recommendation has received resistance from groups as diverse as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), American Beverage Institute, law enforcement agencies and law-makers. Here are some of the critics’ arguments against lowering the drunk-driving BAC:
- It targets “responsible” drinkers rather than addressing the real problem: hardcore and repeat drunk drivers. The NTSB points to research showing even a 0.05 BAC raises the risk of a crash; however, critics state that the majority of alcohol-related road fatalities involve drivers with BAC levels well above the current legal limit.
- The message should be “no BAC” rather than a lower BAC. Some argue that no amount of alcohol consumption is safe before a person drives. Lowering the BAC limit for drivers reinforces our culture’s attitude that some drinking and driving is acceptable.
- It would be difficult to identify and prosecute drivers with a BAC of less than 0.08. Some law enforcement agencies claim many drivers don’t exhibit behaviors that would lead to a traffic stop at 0.05 BAC. In addition, lowering the BAC level will not increase enforcement of drunk-driving laws. Currently officers can only stop a fraction of people who drive drunk, and changing the permissible BAC for drivers will not increase stops or arrests.
- Law enforcement officers can already issue citations for someone who is driving erratically or unsafely even if their BAC is less than 0.08.
- States had a difficult time reducing the BAC limit for drivers from 0.1 to 0.08 BAC; a further reduction is unlikely to receive the support it needs to become law.
- There are far more effective ways to reduce drunk driving, such as ignition interlocks.
.05 BAC Only One of 19 Recommendations
It is important to note that lowering the BAC for drunk driving is just one of the NTSB’s 19 recommendations for ending drunk driving—a recognition of the complexity of the problem. This is the first in a series of blog posts where I’ll cover each of the NTSB’s five safety issue areas, which include:
- Reducing the per se BAC limit for all drivers
- Conducting high-visibility enforcement of impaired driving laws that incorporates passive alcohol sensing technology
- Expanding the use of in-vehicle devices to prevent operation by an impaired driver
- Using DWI Courts and other programs to reduce recidivism by repeat DWI offenders
- Establishing goals for reducing impaired driving and measuring progress toward those goals
What do you think about the arguments against lowering the legal BAC limit for drivers? How would you respond to critics of the NTSB’s recommendation?