Two years ago I wrote about the national movementtoward lowering the per se BAC to 0.05%. Since then, Utah has become the first state to write the 0.05% per se BAC into law. There is a bill pending in the California legislature, which is currently referred to Committee (AB-1713), that would lower the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) to 0.05%. This bill is guaranteed to see pushback from various business groups, especially the restaurant and bar industry. I don’t expect the bill to become law this year but given the changing and more restrictive attitudes towards driving under the influence, it is certainly up for consideration.
Let’s consider the arguments made by those who oppose lowering the BAC to 0.05%. Do they have valid arguments?
Opponents of lowering the lawful BAC argue that lowering the legal BAC will target responsible drinkers who are not impaired and the proposed law is creeping towards a new kind of prohibition. For example, a 110-pound woman who drank of glass of wine and 30 minutes later got behind the wheel might register a BAC of 0.05%. Until 1990, the per se BAC was 0.10%in California. It was then lowered to the current 0.08%. Lowering it again to 0.05% may seem to some as though Carrie Nation’s ghost is whispering in lawmakers’ ears.
Harsher DUI laws don’t necessarily prevent fatal accidents. But beyond this, the opponents claim that lowering the BAC threshold will not save lives. This argument is supported by statistics compiled by Federal agencies that show that the vast majority of alcohol-related deaths on the road involved drivers whose BAC was over .12%. In California, the average driver BAC in alcohol-related fatalities is 0.18%, while nationwide, the “most frequently recorded” driver blood alcohol level in fatal crashes is 0.16%. The number of fatal crashes involving a driver with a 0.05% is barely higher than among those in which the driver had a 0.01% BAC. (Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
As some opponents of lowering the BAC threshold to 0.05% argue, instead of punishing those who have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, resources are better spent on enhanced enforcement, punishment, and treatment for those who drive with high levels of alcohol in their blood.
However, proponents of lowering the lawful BAC point to studies that have shown decreasing reaction timewith every drink and even effects on a driver’s ability to function at only 0.02% BAC. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that at 0.05% a driver has reduced coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects, and slower responses.
Is this a move to a new prohibition? Well, no one is advocating outlawing alcoholic beverages, but they are advocating for laws that are aimed at getting more drivers off the road who have been drinking, even if in moderate amounts. When you consider that most of the world has a 0.05% BAC thresholdand that DUI road deaths in the U.S. are among the highest in the world, the “new prohibition” hyperbole doesn’t ring true. The issue is not black and white. No one would argue that the fewer drivers on the road who have been drinking (even moderately) is a good thing. Perhaps the better answer is education and attaching a greater social stigma to driving under the influence.
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