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Blood Alcohol Content Limit of .05 Recommended by NTSB

Imagine a world where your blood alcohol content (BAC) after only one drink can be cause for a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) arrest. We may be entering into that universe shortly, after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended dropping the threshold for drunken driving from .08 blood alcohol level to .05, as part of its campaign to reduce the rate of fatal crashes. “Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. “Alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will.”

Blood Alcohol Content

The NTSB has released a report indicating that a BAC level of .05 is when people start having difficulties with depth perception and visual functions. According to the NTSB, blood alcohol levels of .05 and higher are significantly correlated with an increased risk of road fatalities. Approximately 30,000 people die each year are killed on U.S. highways, and about 10,000 of those deaths are related to drunk driving.

Previously, when Bill Clinton spearheaded a presidential initiative to promote a .08 blood alcohol level national limit, in order to promote state legislative activity in furtherance of the .08 mandate, on June 9, 1998 President Clinton signed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which provided $500 million in incentive grants over six years to states for enacting and enforcing .08 blood alcohol limits. Within one year, in 1999, 23 states had introduced .08 legislation. Several different federal agencies cooperated to bring the nation within the blood alcohol limits of the new policy, including the Department of Defense, the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The NHTSA has not endorsed the .05 limit advocated by the NTSB, yet. In a statement regarding the proposal, the safety administration stated “NHTSA is always interested in reviewing new approaches that could reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road, and will work with any state that chooses to implement a .05 BAC law to gather further information on that approach.” Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has also declined to endorse the.05 limit proposed by NTSB, indicating that redefining driving while intoxicated isn’t part of its three-part plan to make roadways safer. Sarah Longwell, a managing director for the American Beverage Institute, characterized NTSB’s .05 limit as “ludicrous.”

It only takes one drink for a woman weighing less than 120 pounds to reach .05, or two drinks for a man who weighs 160 pounds. One drink roughly equates to 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or one ounce of 80-proof alcohol. It was difficult to establish .08 as the national limit, and a battle to lower the limit to .05 will probably be even harder. A standard requiring people to drive below a blood alcohol level of .05 will significantly increase the proportion of drinkers who experience a risk of being prosecuted for DUI. The NTSB does not have any authority to change the legal standard.

Do you have an opinion regarding whether California should lower the blood alcohol limits required for DUI convictions? If you are in Sonoma County, Lake County or Mendocino County and you have an opinion you’d like to share concerning the proposed .05 policy, contact us at Beck Law P.C. to let us know whether you think redefining DUI will help to keep our highways safer.

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