NTSB Recommends Lowering Blood Alcohol Levels

Driver arrested on dui


Tuesday, the NTSB, the National Transportation and Safety Board, recommended lowering the national legal blood alcohol percentage from 0.8% to 0.5%.

Currently all 50 states have a standard, BAC level of 0.8%.  If a driver is stopped and a breathalyzer test records a higher level, he or she is subject to arrest and prosecution.  And, although deaths related to driving while under the influence of alcohol, have dropped from 20,000 a year 30 years ago to approximately 10,000 presently, with an additional 170,000 injured, the NTSB feels the numbers are still too high.

Statistics accumulated anonymously, show that over 4 million people admit to driving drunk each year.

As expected, the recommendation to reduce the BAC level to 0.5%, received criticism from those who get rich selling the intoxicating liquids.  Interestingly, some of the arguments are similar to the NRA lobby’s statements about more extensive background checks for gun purchasers.

“This recommendation is ludicrous,” said Sarah Longwell, managing director of American Beverage Institute. “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.”

A weak argument, but don’t be surprised if our legislators listen to the  lobbyists instead of one of their own government agencies, or do what is best for the American public.

Following are statistics by the NTSB:

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.

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.

The NTSB has no power to force a change, it can only ‘suggest’.  The Governors Highway Safety Association favors the current level, and would prefer to see ‘ignition locks placed in the vehicles of first time offenders’.  (But what if that first time offender has already killed someone?)

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD, has been working tirelessly to eliminate drunk driving in its entirety.  They favor a lower BAC level.

“As a mother whose child was killed by a drunk driver, the most important thing to me is preventing as many families as possible from suffering similar tragedies,” said MADD National President Jan Withers. “MADD is focused on eliminating this completely preventable tragedy from our roadways.”

As someone who has always enjoyed what my wife calls, “my toddies”, I am in favor of the NTSB recommendation.

When I was young, I was stupid.  I remember too many times when I drove home and I shouldn’t have.  I also remember times I drove a group home because I was the least drunk in the crowd.  By the grace of God, I never hurt anyone.

I understand the enjoyment of alcoholic beverages with dinner, or at a ball game, or while attending a party.  For all too many, one glass of wine, a drink made with ‘hard liquor’, or a couple of beers, makes them incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle.

I once knew someone who struck a pedestrian with his car.  He “only had a few drinks”, but his attention was unfocused, and he didn’t see the person in the crosswalk.  The young woman he hit, died two days later from her injuries.

Lives were forever changed that evening.  The young woman’s family suffered an irreplaceable loss.  And the man I knew became sullen and depressed for the rest of the time I knew him.

He was convicted of second degree manslaughter, and served less than two years in jail.  That’s two years the young woman did not have.

The reason his sentence was minimal, is because when he was tested, his BAC level was below the legal limit which constituted intoxication.

James Turnage

The Guardian Express

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