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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.

imagesCA6LQZZHThe 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?

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Mindy Huddleston

Mindy Huddleston

Mindy Huddleston joined SCRAM Systems as part of the Industry Relations team in 2012 and became director of Industry Relations in 2014. Previously, she was the president of Crux Consulting Group, a Washington, D.C.-based agency specializing in government relations, marketing, and project management. Huddleston’s career spans work with several notable organizations, including the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, the National Crime Prevention Council, the International Institute for Alcohol Awareness, and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. Huddleston earned her MBA with a marketing concentration from The George Washington University and a BS in International Business/Marketing with a minor in Psychology from The American University. She contributes On the Hill and other special interest, legislative, and government interest content for Sobering Up.


  1. I personally do not believe anyone should be allowed to drink and drive. If you are going to drink then have a designated driver. If it were your child at risk would you want to chance it. Also, everyone tolerates Alcohol differently so someone could be really affected at .05, when others might not be affected enough to show with a .08. It’s about not DRINKING AND DRIVING AT ALL. Zero tolerance. You Drink You Dont Drive. My Opinion of course.

  2. I also believe stiffer jail time, community service might help things as well. Money doesn’t seem to matter, since they don’t pay anyway. But having to work for free for longer periods of time.

  3. I personally am amazed that everyone is missing the true issue: alcohol is a drug. At the risk of sounding like a prohibitionist, we need to better regulate the makers and distributors. We currently arrest people for possession of marihuana (any amount) but when was the last time you heard of someone arrested for causing an accident or taking a life as a result of DUI – marihuana? Heroin? Cocaine?
    Alcohol is as serious a drug as any on the planet and it is as addictive as any of them BUT IT’S LEGAL to possess and imbibe. It becomes illegal when too much is ingested but since some have more tolerance than others… Alcohol distillers and distributors make billions of dollars a year selling a drug that we have little to no actual control of.
    We need to shift gears and educate our children about the reality of alcohol as a drug. We need to explain to them why it was made legal and the responsibility required to use it. We are no longer in the “Roaring 20s.” We recognized how illicit drug use caused so many problems for people. Opium dens were prevalent in the 1800s and even up to the 1950s until the severity of addiction and the results of drug use became apparent. Why then do we allow alcohol to be sold and used so widely and easily? Where is the strict regulation for its purchase and use?

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