Opinion: Drinking & Driving

Lower BAC Limits Stigmatize Drivers

The call by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) earlier this year to reduce the legal limit of driving under the influence from the current 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.05 percent is illogical and antithetical to an open society that marks a healthy democracy.

Every highway fatality is a tragedy. However, we must also consider each life transformed by being forever branded with a DUI conviction. These charges often come without evidence of impairment; only a legal determination that 0.05 BAC means the driver is under the influence.

The U.S. Government’s own data, as collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), have been remarkably consistent throughout the years with regard to measured alcohol content of drivers in fatal crashes. For the five years ending in 2011, the last full year of available data from NHTSA, drivers with no perceptible BAC accounted for an average of 63 percent of highway fatalities. Over 31 percent of fatalities were tied to drivers with 0.08 or higher BAC levels. According to 2006 NHTSA statistics, another 3.0 percent of fatalities occurred when at least one driver registered between 0.0 and 0.05 BAC.

By lowering the limit to 0.05, we focus our efforts, and millions of dollars, on the cause of only 2.6 percent of fatalities, essentially ignoring the other 97.4 percent. Additionally, the wider DUI net of a 0.05 limit will criminalize tens of thousands of motorists annually who were operating their vehicles responsibly and without impairment. Conversely, NHTSA data indicate that in fatal accidents that involved drivers with measurable BACs, 92.5 percent of those drivers had BACs of 0.10 or higher (see second slide).

If the goal is to minimize driving while impaired, reasonable and data-supported traffic laws and penalties suggest leaving the DUI legal limit at 0.08 and focusing taxpayer money and law enforcement activity on the 92.5 percent of DUI fatalities: drivers with 0.10 or higher BAC. Make no mistake: impaired drivers should be removed from the road for their own safety as well as the safety of others. Penalties for drunken driving should be commensurate with levels of impairment.


Bio: Gary Biller is president of the National Motorists Association, a grassroots advocacy organization of 9,000 members dedicated to the protection of motorists’ rights and freedoms since 1982


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