The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that states reduce the legal limit of intoxication from a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% to 0.05%. Presently, all 50 states in the United States have a uniform legal BAC of 0.08%, meaning that a driver cannot be convicted of driving while intoxicated unless they have a BAC of 0.08% or above. In New York State, if a motorist has a BAC of 0.05% to 0.07%, they can be charged with driving while ability impaired, (DWAI), which is a traffic infraction, not a crime. If an operator has a BAC of 0.18% or above in New York, they can be charged with Aggravated DWI, (a misdemeanor) which went into effect in 2010.
THE NTSB can only make recommendations, and has no legal power. In making its recommendations, it refers to the fact that on an annual basis, approximately 10,000 people die in alcohol related traffic crashes, and 170,000 people are injured. This is a significant improvement from 30 years earlier, when there were about 20,000 deaths from alcohol related accidents. Studies have noted that approximately 4 million people acknowledge driving while they are under the influence of alcohol. Presently, the U.S., Canada and Iraq are among the few countries that have instituted a legal limit for intoxication at 0.08%. In contrast, Russia, South American, Australia, and the majority of European countries have set the legal limit at 0.05%. Apparently, Australian provinces saw a reduction of 5-18% in traffic deaths when the legal limit was reduced to 0.05% from 0.08%.
There will certainly be a huge amount of lobbying against a reduction of the legal limit of intoxication by representatives of restaurants, clubs, bars and other service industries. In fact, the American Beverage Institute has already noted its opposition to a reduction, stating: “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.” This argument is similar to that made by opponents of gun control such as the NRA, which has been quite successful in its’ efforts to limit any form of restrictions on gun ownership.
The NTSB contends that the reduction could save up 1,000 deaths a year if the 0.05% standard was adopted in all fifty states. The Board states that at 0.05% BAC, some drivers have difficulties with depth perception and their vision in general, and at 0.07%, judgment and cognitive abilities can be impaired. It is important to note that the previous effort to reduce the legal intoxication rate from 0.10% to 0.08% took 21 years to be adopted in all fifty states, commencing with Utah in 1983 and ending with all fifty states implementing the 0.08% level in 2004.