A recent proposal by the National Transportation Safety Board could lower the legal blood alcohol level for drivers from its current 0.08 to 0.05, this coming 21 years after it initially lowered the level from 0.10 to 0.08.
Reactions to the possible change have been mixed. Supporters of the reduction cite the high number of drunk driving crashes on our roads, often fatal and the success that the lower rate has had elsewhere around the globe.
The NTSB states that traffic deaths attributable to drunken driving in Europe were cut in half inside of 10 years, after the legal level was dropped to 0.05.
The biggest question that I have is, how “impaired” are drivers when they reach the 0.05 level? I assume the answer varies from person to person, but if there is proof that drivers lose abilities with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05, then yes, I agree with this move.
There are other reasons why I think this would be the right decision. In my experience I have seen many people after having two or three drinks, think that they were good to drive, but worry if they were over the legal limit. If the limit was lowered from 0.08 to 0.05 these people, I feel, would be more inclined to not drive.
The change in the limit would not, unfortunately, have any impact on habitual drunk drivers, or drunk drivers that are so impaired that they lose all sensibility.
To me, these drivers are the most dangerous on our roads.
Who would this impact the most? Casual drinkers and by proxy, bar and restaurant owners.
If the legal limit is dropped, casual drinkers (one drink with dinner) might choose to no longer imbibe. If restaurants and bars lose the one or two drink customers, they could see a sharp drop to their bottom lines.
“You are potentially crushing restaurant and bar owners that rely on that revenue,” said restaurant owner Nicole Oppermann of Atlanta.
Nationally, we are seeing some pushback from some of the heavy hitters in the beverage industry.
Sarah Longwell, the managing director at the American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade association, told the New York Times:
“Moving from .08 to .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.”
The bottom line for the proposal, is saving lives says NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman.
“Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable,” Hersman said. “Alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will.”
If the NTSB is able to get this legislation passed, it would then fall on Georgia lawmakers to decide if the state would go along. Historically, if a state does not abide by the new statute, there could be a withholding of Federal funds for state transportation projects. As with most issues, this could all come down to money.