Right now around the country, if you’re in any of the 50 states and have a legal blood-alcohol content level of 0.08% or above, and you’re driving, you’re considered drunk and can be arrested and perhaps prosecuted for doing so. The National Transportation Safety Board thinks that threshold is too high, and has voted to recommend to states that they lower the BAC level to 0.05.
That level reflects the percentage of alcohol by volume in your blood, and the NTSB says at 0.05, drivers’ vision can be affected and they could possibly have problems with depth perception. At 0.07, cognitive abilities become impaired. And by 0.08, the NTSB says the risk of having an accident increases by more than 100%.
However, notes NBC News, the NTSB is just an investigative agency that works to promote safety issues, and can’t change laws or order any states to do so. That would be up to the individual states to act on the NTSB’s advice. The Department of Transportation would also have to get on board to suggest the change.
According to the NTSB, almost 10,000 people a year die in traffic accidents linked to alcohol, with a further 170,000 injured. And it seems there are more drunken drivers on the road who escape unscathed, without harming others — some studies say as many as 4 million per year admit to driving under the influence.
Already there are protests from restaurant trade groups who could see businesses suffer because of the NTSB’s recommendation.
“This recommendation is ludicrous,” Sarah Longwell, managing director of American Beverage Institute told NBC. “Moving from 0.08 to 0.05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior. Further restricting the moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hardcore drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.”
But advocates for lowering the BAC to 0.05 point out that there are only a few countries who have such a high limit — most European countries, a large part of South America and Australia all use a 0.05 level. Recently, Australia dropped from 0.08 to0 .05 and reported a 5-18% drop in traffic fatalities.
If all 50 states lower their standard to 0.05, the NTSB says 1,000 lives could be saved each year. It could take a while if states agree to do so, as the last time the level was moved — from 0.10 to .08 BAC — it took 21 years to implement.