The National Transportation Safety Board meets with Washington to discuss lowering the legal limit for drivers from .08% to .05% blood alcohol content. Though the NTSB does not have any official legal power, its statements do have the strength to affect legislators who can then draft the desired laws. The Board is pushing for this change to take effect in all fifty states.
According to NTSB’s research, lowering the level would save about 500 to 800 lives a year. There would be significant improvement, just as there was when the legal limit was changed from .15% to .08%. In 1980, when the BAC limit was .15%, the alcohol-related fatalities totaled 20,000; in 2011, they totaled 9,878. The difference is major, but 31% of the fatal highway accidents are still caused by alcohol impairment.
The ultimate goal of the NTSB is to make it completely illegal to drive under the influence, as each level can affect a person’s driving abilities. Currently to reach .08%, a 180-pound male can consume four drinks an hour; the same person would reach .05% after three. Gender and size change how alcohol affects people just as much as the details of the consumption. But either way, the current limit allows a good amount of alcohol to be drunk and the driver to still be considered safe.
The research also gives examples of how any level can cause impairment. At .01%, drivers experience attention problems and lane deviations; at .02%, drowsiness; and at .04%, vigilance issues.
There are additional laws that further restrict alcohol consumption that are made for the safety of others. Drivers under 21 years of age are arrested for a DUI at any level, and commercial drivers cannot exceed .04% BAC. The NTSB is attempting to regulate safety just as these laws do, but in a more universal way.
The Board is also requesting that stricter punishments are provided to those who do break the law to ensure that they will not do it again. It recommends that licenses be taken away for a period of time in all instances and that offenders’ cars be equipped with interlock devices that require drivers to pass a breathalyzer test before the engine starts.
Whether the NTSB makes a big impact at the meeting or not, new legislation regarding the BAC legal limit would not be signed for many years. However, this may be the first step as the information provided on vehicle safety is difficult to ignore. A decrease of .03% would not be the biggest change in law, but it would help to save more people each year.