The current BAC limit for drivers in all 50 states is 0.08, but if some lawmakers get their way, that could soon change.
Since 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called on states to reduce the legal BAC for drivers from 0.08 to 0.05. The agency notes that research shows the risk of a fatal crash more than doubles by the time someone reaches the current drunk-driving limit. In addition, lowering the standard would bring the U.S. in line with much of the rest of the world.
Lower “per se” BAC
If passed, bills introduced this session would make Washington, Utah, and Hawaii the first states to follow the NTSB’s recommendation. Washington’s House Bill (H.B.) 1874, Utah’s H.B. 155, and Hawaii’s Senate Bill (S.B.) 18 would lower the “per se” blood and breath alcohol concentration for DUIs to 0.05, meaning that drivers who test at or above that limit would automatically be considered legally impaired. The bills in both Washington and Utah also expressly apply the 0.05 limit to anyone operating or deemed in control of other types of vehicles, such as boats, aircraft, and off-road vehicles.
The wrong focus?
Some officials and safety advocates are applauding the bills as a step toward reducing the number of drunk driving deaths, but the move is also drawing some criticism. Alcohol industry groups actively oppose a change, arguing that lawmakers should instead focus on hardcore drunk drivers. And when the NTSB issued its recommendation to lower the legal BAC for driving in 2013, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) said they preferred to focus on other strategies, like high-visibility DUI enforcement and additional ignition interlocks. Some critics also note that many states already allow drivers with legal BACs to be charged with drunk driving if there is additional proof of impairment, such as a failed roadside sobriety test.
Alcohol-impaired vs. alcohol-involved crashes
But supporters of a lower limit argue that the 0.08 standard is out-of-date with current research about impairment, and a change could save hundreds of lives each year. The latest stats on traffic fatalities may support that claim.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that in 2015 there were 10,265 alcohol-impaired traffic fatalities involving a driver who had a BAC at or above 0.08. However, that number doesn’t include deaths where a driver had a BAC between 0.01 and 0.07. There were more than 1,800 such drivers involved in a fatal crashes in 2015. Supporters of a lower legal BAC note that these numbers suggest that alcohol may be a contributing factor in many crashes even if it isn’t the primary cause.
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