NTSB proposes tougher drunk-driving threshold

Posted By Attorney Robert M. Bernstein || 16-May-2013

A decade-old benchmark for determining when a driver is legally drunk could be lowered in an effort to reduce alcohol-related car crashes. The National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all 50 states lower the threshold from 0.08 blood-alcohol content (BAC) to 0.05.

"This is critical because impaired driving remains one of the biggest killers in the United States," NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman said ahead of a vote by the panel on a staff report. NTSB looks to technology to end drunk driving in the U.S. Lowering the rate to 0.05 would save about 500 to 800 lives annually, the safety board report said.

Under current law, a 180-pound male typically will hit the 0.08 threshold after four drinks over an hour, according to an online blood alcohol calculator published by the University of Oklahoma. That same person could reach a 0.05 threshold after two to three drinks over the same period, according to the calculator. Many factors besides height and weight influence a person's blood alcohol content level. Many states outlaw lower levels of inebriation when behind the wheel.

"This recommendation is ludicrous," Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute, said in a statement. "Moving from 0.08 to 0.05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior." At Tuesday's meeting, the safety board also championed laws allowing police to confiscate a motorist's license at the time of the arrest if the driver exceeds a BAC limit, or refuses to take the BAC test.

Some 40 states already use the administrative tool, which the NTSB believes is effective because it is swift and immediate. The board recommended more widespread use of passive alcohol sensors, which police can use to "sniff" the air during a traffic stop to determine the presence of alcohol. The sensor is capable of detecting alcohol even in cases where the driver has attempted to disguise his breathe with gum or mints. If the sensor alerts, it is grounds for more through testing.

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