Federal Officials Push to Lower DUI Limit

With drunk driving still a stubborn national problem that accounts for one-third of all traffic deaths, federal safety regulators on Tuesday called on states to take a dramatic step: lower the legal DUI limit for drivers’ blood-alcohol content from 0.08% to at least 0.05%-a drop of more than a third.

The recommendation for the lower limit comes from the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal agency tasked by Congress with investigating airline, highway and railroad safety.

The board based its proposal on a study which concluded that “by 0.05 BAC, most drivers experience decline in both cognitive and visual functions, which significantly increases the risk of a serious crash.”

According to the NTSB, 10,000 people die in alcohol-related traffic accidents and 170,000 are injured each year.

The NTSB believes that if all 50 states changed their standard to .05, nearly 1,000 lives could be saved each year. It is also considering other steps to help bring down the death rates on America’s roads.

“This is critical because impaired driving remains one of the biggest killers in the United States,” said Deborah Hersman, the NTSB chairman. “To make a bold difference will require bold action. But it can be done.”

The board’s recommendation follows an effort in the European Union, which set a goal of cutting alcohol-related fatalities in half by 2010 and succeeded. Europe is now trying to cut the crashes in half again over the next decade.

The NTSB points out most countries in Europe, Asia and Australia have all lowered the legal BAC limit to .05. When Australia dropped its BAC level from .08 to .05, provinces reported a 5-18 percent drop in traffic fatalities. The NTSB reports that at .05 BAC, some drivers begin having difficulties with depth perception and other visual functions. At .07, cognitive abilities become impaired.

At .05 BAC, the risk of having an accident increases by 39 percent. At .08 BAC, the risk of having an accident increases by more than 100 percent.

About fifteen years ago, the National Traffic Safety Board (“NTSB”) made a huge push in this country to lower the blood alcohol content that constitutes drunk driving from .10 to .08. Through the federal government, they were able to put pressure on individual states by withholding federal funding for road construction unless states complied by enacting the new law. This tactic worked and was basically applauded by lawmakers and interest groups as it appeared to make the roads safer against drunk drivers.

But the NTSB makes only recommendations to states and the federal government, and can’t make laws or regulations.

If the lower limits became law, it would affect more casual drinkers, particularly those with lower body weights. A woman weighing about 120 pounds could register a 0.05 after just one drink. A man weighing up to 160 pounds would clear that threshold after two drinks.

The lower blood-alcohol content was among 19 recommendations made by the board to reduce drunk driving, including calls for high-visibility enforcement and expanding the use of in-vehicle devices to prevent the start-up of cars by impaired drivers.

Tuesday’s recommendations were timed to coincide with the deadliest alcohol-related crash in U.S. history. On May 14, 1988, a drunk driver drove his pickup the wrong way on Interstate 71 near Carrollton, Kentucky. The truck hit a school bus, killing 24 children and three adults. More than 30 others were hurt.

If you or a loved one was recently injured in an auto accident caused by an impaired driver, contact the St. Augustine personal injury attorneys at Canan Law today. Our personal injury lawyers represent clients throughout North Florida, including in St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra, Palatka and Daytona Beach.

Call us or stop by our offices at 43 Cincinnati Avenue in downtown St. Augustine if you have any questions about a pending personal injury or criminal matter.

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