Is 0.05 Percent the new 0.08 Percent?
Since 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has advocated that the legal blood alcohol level (BAC) limit for drivers in the United States be lowered to 0.05 percent or even lower. Citing numerous studies in other countries where the legal limit is 0.05% or less, the NTSB makes the case that even at 0.05% BAC, which for most people is the equivalent of one or two alcoholic drinks within a period of an hour or so, the risk of a driver being in a vehicle crash is at least twice as likely than for a driver with no alcohol in his or her blood. One such study noted by the NTSB is a finding that in Australia, there was an 18 percent decrease in fatal vehicle crashes when the legal BAC was lowered from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent. Indeed, almost all countries have a BAC threshold that is less than the 0.08 percent that currently applies in all fifty US states.
But states are free to set their own BAC thresholds and the NTSB recommendations are starting to show an impact. In March of 2017, Utah became the first state to pass a law, which becomes effective in 2018, to lower the legal BAC limit to 0.05 percent. Two other state legislatures, Hawaii and Washington State, have or are considering similar legislation. The Hawaii bill was rejected but a Washington house bill to lower the BAC limit to 0.05% is currently in committee.
As you might expect, there is substantial pushback on this nascent trend from the alcohol industry. In fact, the American Beverage Institute took out a full-page ad neighboring Nevada’s largest newspaper showing a mugshot picture of a woman with the caption “Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation.” The Institute ran similar ads in Idaho and Utah newspapers.
Interestingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has not taken a position on the NTSB recommendation to lower the limit to 0.05 percent. MADD’s position is a preference for a focus on repeat alcohol-dependent drivers and on other strategies to get drunken drivers off the road. Since MADD was a crucial impetus in the move to lower BAC limits from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent several decades ago, the fact that MADD is not now pushing for the new NTSB-recommended level might inhibit the efforts of the NTSB to convince the states to lower the limit.
Utah is a well-known as a state that is not particularly friendly towards alcohol consumption. It was the first state in the country to lower the BAC threshold to 0.08% (California was the fourth). Although we might consider Utah’s new law an outlier, the writing may already be on the wall. When you consider that the majority of nations have a BAC threshold of 0.05 percent or less, that the NTSB is urging states to lower the limit, and the fact that some states are already considering lowering the level all it will take is a change of MADD’s position or a federal “stick” to see the states quickly fall behind Utah. Time will tell.
Orange County DUI attorney William Weinberg has almost 25 years’ experience defending those charged with DUI. Call him for a free consultation regarding your DUI matter at (949) 474-8008 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org