Donna Anderson
May 20, 2013

All 50 states have adopted a legal limit of 0.08 percent.

In a move opponents believe will have no measurable effect on public safety, the National Transportation Safety Board is urging state governments to lower the allowable limits for drivers from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, a move it says will reduce fatalities caused by drunk drivers. Even MADD, the most vocal anti-drunk driving group in the world, would rather pursue other options.

Currently, all 50 states have adopted a legal limit of 0.08 percent. Alcohol-related traffic fatalities have dropped from 21,098 in 1985 to 10,000 in 2011, but NTSB says progress has stalled. “There are at least 10,000 reasons to tackle this issue,” said Deborah A. P. Hersman, the chairwoman of the board.

But statistics tell a different story. In 2010, The U. S. Department of Transportation reported a total of 32,885 traffic fatalities. Out of that total, 31.10 percent, or 10,228, involved drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. Only 5.32 percent, or 1,720, fatalities involved a BAC of 0.07 percent or less, indicating that the problem isn’t with social drinkers who know their limits and drink responsibly.

The MADD website states that about one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence of alcohol are repeat offenders, and 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license.

Response from various states suggests the move to lower the legal limit is being met with resistance. In Ohio, The Columbus Dispatch points out that in 2011 Ohio had 11.5 million residents and total traffic fatalities of 1,015. Alcohol-related fatalities were listed at 316. “Of the alcohol-impaired drivers who caused a fatality, 95 percent had a blood-alcohol level of over 0.10, and 55 percent were over 0.20.”

Sarah Longwell, the managing director of the American Beverage Institute, calls the measure “ludicrous.”

“Moving from 0.08 to 0.05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior,” she said. And “further restriction of moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hard-core drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.”

Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) doesn’t entirely support the measure, either. The group favors mandatory installation of a Breathalyzer system for drivers convicted of drunk driving, and they’re all for passive alcohol sensors and “administrative license revocation” because they believe these measures show strong potential for reducing alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

However, J. T. Griffin, a Washington representative for MADD, says the National Transportation Safety Board is “trying to focus on a group of people who are more social drinkers, who haven’t been targeted in a while.” MADD would not oppose the change, he said, but would pursue other remedies.

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