Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that the United States has among the highest rates of death from drunk driving in the world, with 31 percent of all fatal accidents being attributed to alcohol impairment. You might be surprised to learn that our neighbor to the north, Canada, has an even higher rate at 34 percent and South Africa’s rate is even higher at 58%–that represents 25.1 deaths caused by impaired drivers for every 100,000 people in South Africa. These three countries, according to the Global Status Report on Road Safety (2015) have the three highest rates in the world of road deaths caused by impaired drivers. Australia, France, and Italy come in just below the United States at 30 percent, 29 percent, and 25 percent, respectively.

There may be a number of reasons to explain the high rate of fatalities caused by impaired drivers, including lack of public transportation options and dispersed population centers. But Russia, a country rumored to celebrate drinking and a country with a huge land mass, is reported to have only 9 percent of its road fatalities caused by drunk driving. Now you might reasonably surmise that Russia’s statistical reporting is lacking or otherwise manipulated, but the World Health Organization, which compiled this report takes into account any data manipulation or lack of reliable statistics. Germany, a country known for its robust beer drinking, matches Russia’s 9 percent rate.

Could these differences be explained by the drunk driving laws? Perhaps, but probably not by the legal BAC levels. Canada (most provinces) and the United States have a 0.08 percent BAC threshold. But the legal limit is South Africa is 0.05 percent BAC. And while Germany and Russia have a 0.05 percent BAC legal threshold, so does Australia, France and Italy, countries that have a much higher rate of deaths caused by impaired drivers. Consider that France, with a 29 percent rate of drunk driving fatalities has a 0.05 percent BAC threshold, while Great Britain, with a 16 percent rate of drunk driving fatalities has a 0.08 percent BAC limit.

Clearly the BAC legal limits can’t explain the different rates of road fatalities caused by impaired driving across countries; there must be other factors. Yet, the 0.05 percent BAC limit is treated like the holy grail answer to diminishing drunk driving deaths. The National Transportation Safety Board recommends this per se level across all states, the World Health Organization recommends this limit worldwide, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that all states lower the legal BAC level to 0.05 percent, and the list could go on.

While a lower legal BAC level will certainly result in more DUI arrests, it is questionable whether it will actually lower the number of deaths caused by impaired drivers. By focusing on this one factor, our legislators and those who advise them, may be missing the forest for the trees. Driving under the influence laws should address a wide-range of factors, not just employ a bigger stick.

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Orange County DUI defense attorney, William Weinberg, is available to discuss your options. You may contact him for a free consultation at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at