A New Report Suggests Lowering DUI Limits Can Make Roads Safer — But Will It?

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) published a report in January 2018 which strongly recommends that all 50 states lower the current universal standard of .08 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) to .05. The report, sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cites research which reveals that the average person’s ability to operate any motor vehicle begins to deteriorate at even lower BAC levels than the current .08 standard; thereby raising the odds that a drunk driver might cause an accident.

The debate over lowering the BAC to a universal .05 has raged since the NHTSA made the same suggestion in 2012. Many say it’s a good idea and will lower drunk-driving fatalities, but a great many also question the hypothesis.

This debate has existed even longer in Canada. And a growing number of naysayers make some good points. These critics question whether the real objective of creating a new, lower universal standard of intoxication of .05 BAC is to create more justification for early intervention. And they wonder whether the strategic goal is actually zero tolerance laws, to keep every driver who has a drink – but falls short of .05 – from being on the road at all.

NHTSA fatality statistics tell us that 29 people die every day in drunk driving crashes (more than 10,000 deaths each year). And Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reveals that each day around 300,000 Americans drive drunk (0.8 or higher); but only about 1.3 percent (4,000), are arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI). Given the woefully low enforcement percentage at the current 0.8 limit, is it reasonable to expect a lowered 0.5 limit to succeed at getting more drunk drivers off the road?.

The NASEM’s report offers some other more practical suggestions that, if incorporated, could help to curb DUIs. One advocates more aggressive use of ignition interlock devices. The Academies’ authors point to the success in the U.S. and other countries where those convicted of alcohol-impaired driving are ordered to have breathalyzer-ignition interlocks on their vehicles. Years of data proves they are much less likely to be rearrested for alcohol-related driving or to have an accident, and could be even more successful when combined with BAC levels less than .05.

Another suggestion – even though it would take years to fully incorporate – is a variation on the interlock suggestion. The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) partnership between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety is developing noninvasive, in-vehicle technologies to prevent drivers from operating their vehicles if they have a BAC that exceeds the limit set by any state’s law. The Academies urge the NHTSA to make DADSS mandatory in all new vehicles when the cost approaches that of other existing automobile safety features and they are proven effective, What all of this means today is that the lower BAC limit of .05 in and of itself will not make roads safer. But the programs and technology that spring from these multiple efforts to lower the BAC limit  certainly might.

If you or a family member was injured by a drunk driver, please contact the attorneys at the Billy Johnson Injury Law Firm by calling us at 606-433-0682 or fill out our online contact form.

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