Lower the BAC level for DWI to .05%?

posted at 9:41 am on August 23, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

Last May, the NTSB put out a recommendation that the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level for drivers should be lowered from the current level of .08% to .05%. If you happen to be one of the people who finds this a peachy idea, you may have a while to wait.

Don’t look for DOT to lead the charge in embracing an NTSB recommendation to lower the blood-alcohol limit for drunken driving.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Thursday that if anyone’s going to take the lead on lowering the limit to 0.05 percent, it should be the states.

“To the extent that states adopt measures to lower the limit, that would give us the basis to study the data and to understand the impacts nationwide,” Foxx said at an event announcing the Transportation Department’s annual Labor Day crackdown on drunken drivers.

I’ll get around to praising the DOT for doing nothing in a moment, (which seems to be the best role for government these days anyway) but to give a hint as to how popular this move is, look no further than Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving was lukewarm on the issue.

“MADD is laser-beam focused on what will save the most lives,” the group’s national president, Jan Withers, told POLITICO after the event. For Withers, that includes installing interlock devices in cars to prevent convicted drunken drivers from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated a second time, and vigorously enforcing current laws — not necessarily embarking on another legislative crusade.

“It took us 20 years to get down to 0.08,” said Withers, whose 15-year-old daughter was killed by a drunken driver in 1992. “It will take us another 20 years to get down to 0.05.”

Moving the limit from .08 to .05 essentially means that we’d be changing the law so that instead of being arrested for sniffing a beer as you head for the car, you’ll be heading to jail if you look at a beer. These arbitrary laws have been problematic since the beginning, not because we shouldn’t stop people from driving when they are impaired beyond the ability to safely operate a vehicle, but because they are implemented so flatly. Different people respond in different ways to the chemical stimulous of alcohol. Since body weight has such a huge influence on how much of a dose you can handle – in terms of a raw count of number of ounces – the idea of a percentage of blood content was supposed to address that. And it does, to some extent. But when you approach the “gray line” of the limit, some people are going to already be impaired while others may be just fine.

Lowering the limit even further will simply catch up more people who might have complete control of themselves under a law intended to catch the truly irresponsible and dangerous. This is in addition to the effect this trend has already had on the food, beverage, bar and restaurant industry. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and while the intention of these laws is to save people’s lives, the implementation can and does cause problems.


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