Lower Drunk Driving Limit: What Does NTSB Want To Change It To?

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 14, 2013 3:12 PM EDT

Car Crash
The National Traffic Safety Board recommended a lower drunk driving limit, from 0.08% down to 0.05%. (Photo: Creative Commons)

States should set a lower drunk driving limit, the National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday.

The NTSB recommended lowering the blood-alcohol limit from 0.08 percent, the limit in every state, to 0.05 percent. According to the board, the risk of a crash at 0.05 percent is about half as much as at 0.08 percent.

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"This is critical because impaired driving remains one of the biggest killers in the United States," said Deborah Hersman, the NTSB chairman. "To make a bold difference will require bold action. But it can be done."

How many drinks can one consume under current law before getting behind the wheel, and still be in compliance? Blood-alcohol concentration varies according to a number of factors, such as weight, gender and how much one has eaten. In general, a 180-pound man can drink four beers, glasses of wine or shots over the course of 90 minutes and be under 0.08 percent. If the limit were lowered to 0.05 percent, he would only be able to consume three drinks in 90 minutes. A 130-pound could, generally speaking, have three drinks in 90 minutes without breaking 0.08 percent; if the limit were lowered, she could have two drinks.

Not everyone welcomed the NTSB's proposal. 

"This recommendation is ludicrous," said Sarah Longwell, managing director of the Washington-based American Beverage Institute. "Moving from .08 to .05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior. Further restricting the moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hardcore drunken drivers from getting behind the wheel."

Another high profile group that didn't necessarily get behind the NTSB's recommendation is Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD.

"This is one approach," said J.T. Griffin, senior vice president of public policy for MADD. "We feel our approach has the opportunity to save more lives."

MADD's approach includes supporting technology that prevents intoxicated drivers from using their cars and advocating for more sobriety checkpoints on roads.

Like MADD, the Governors Highway Safety Association, which supports the current 0.08 percent level, favors ignition locks for first-time offenders-breathalyzers that prevent intoxicated drivers from starting their cars.

According to the NTSB, at 0.05 percent BAC, drivers may have trouble with depth perception and other visual functions; at 0.07 percent, cognitive abilities become impaired. They also claim that at 0.05 percent BAC, the risk of having an accident increases by 39 percent, and at 0.08 percent BAC, the risk of having an accident increases by more than 100 percent.

When Australia dropped its BAC level from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, traffic deaths dropped between 5 and 18 percent. The NTSB believes nearly 1,000 lives could be saved each year if all states adopted a 0.05 percent BAC limit. 

The United States, Canada and Iraq among the few nations that have a BAC limit of 0.08 percent. Most of Europe and South America set the level at 0.05 percent.

The NTSB, which only makes recommendations to state and federal governments, cannot make laws or change regulations.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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