A prominent government agency is taking a proactive potion to tighten drunk driving laws across the nation. The federal government’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is now recommending that all 50 states adopted a new, more stringent standard for determining when someone can be convicted for DUI (driving under the influence).
At present, every state uses a blood-alcohol content (BAC) cut-off level of 0.08. Should the new proposed standard be adopted, the BAC required to convict someone would drop to 0.05.
Opposition to the Newly Proposed BAC Standard
A May 15th, 2013 CNN article states the reasoning that that the current 0.08% level is fully adequate, and there are better ways to reduce drunk driving. They believe that lawmakers should concentrate on the two following approaches.
- Assign more resources to properly punishing the country’s many repeat DUI offenders, and
- Increase the penalties for those arrested with BAC levels of 0.15 or more.
These opponents believe that more deaths can be prevented by simply taking these actions than by urging all 50 states to once again lower their BAC levels.
Activist support for this proposal is limited, as even Mothers Against Drunk Driving is not taking up this cause, although they say they are not advocating against it. Still, that’s a serious blow to this getting done.
Why Some Groups Support A Change To a Lower Legal Impairment Threshold
Proponents of this BAC change – which can only occur if each state legislature independently decides to adopt it — reference the following current facts in support of their position.
- About 10,000 Americans die each year as a result of alcohol-related crashes;
- Stated differently, drunk driving “accounts for about a third of all road deaths in the United States;”
- Over the past 30 years, more than 440,000 Americans died due to alcohol-impaired drivers;
- Many lives have been saved over the past quarter-century in this country as a result of all 50 states dropping their BAC standards for DUI from 0.15 to the current 0.08 level;
- At present, “more than 100 countries on six continents have BAC limits set at 0.05 or lower;”
- The NTSB has research indicating that “most drivers experience a decline in both cognitive and visual functions with a BAC of 0.05;”
- The NTSB estimates that adopting the new BAC of 0.05 “would save about 500 to 800 lives annually.”
A “decline in cognitive and visual function” is obviously relative. How much more dangerous is a .05% BAC driver than the average septuagenarian?
(And those “alcohol related” accident figures have always been a little suspiciously broad, but that’s another subject.)
Other NTSB Recommendations
- All states should begin letting law enforcement officers “confiscate a motorist’s license at the time of arrest if the driver exceeds a BAC limit or refuses to take the BAC test;” This is already the case in Massachusetts.
- More states should start using the new “passive alcohol sensors” that help officers making traffic stops. These sensors can be used to justify more complete testing;
- Every state should require all DUI offenders to use ignition interlock devices on their vehicles — and tighten up compliance with this requirement. Massachusetts currently requires an interlock after a 2nd offense conviction.
Even if various states choose to adopt the new BAC standard, it could take many years for all of them to enact this type of legislation. After all, it took approximately 24 years for the current BAC standard to be adopted by all 50 states.
Our position is that this would do little to increase public safety, and really doesn’t attack the problem head on. Tougher punishment for dangerous drivers with a very high BAC level, like .15% makes more sense. As well as more alcohol education and access to treatment for the large number of people with alcohol addition problems. Alcoholism leads to bad decision making and impluse control issues, which leads people to get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.
By Elizabeth Smith