Recently the National Transportation Safety Board came out with a proposal that set the country buzzing. The agency issued a press release saying that it believed all 50 states should come together and lower the legal blood alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05 percent. While some people applauded the bold move, many others harshly criticized the measure as not only unattainable but misguided. The following is a discussion of some of the problems contained in the proposal.
First and foremost, the measure would allow the criminalization of impairment rather than intoxication, a much murkier area. Currently, 0.08 percent is meant to reflect a line of dangerous intoxication for the majority of drivers while 0.05 percent is a much less clearly defined level of potential impairment. The average male could only consume two drinks before hitting the new 0.05 limit, yet ask most people if they believe two drinks qualifies them as dangerous drivers and they would give a resounding “No”.
Statistics prove that drivers in this lower range of impairment are responsible for very few accidents each year. Instead, it is the severely intoxicated drivers, those with two or three times the legal BAC limit, that account for the majority of all deadly drunk driving wrecks. Devoting time and energy to getting those drivers off the road would be better than targeting social drinkers.
Another problem with the proposal is the practical reality of implementing it. The last time the BAC limit was lowered, from 0.10 to 0.08, the process took 21 years to complete. Even then, progress was only made after President Clinton signed a law which withheld valuable highway construction money from those states that refused to fall in line. Despite all the hard work, the impact of the change is debatable.
Prior to the implementation of the new legal limit, drunk-driving deaths made up just under a third of all the deaths that occur on the nation’s roadways each year. Today the percentage remains the same, with drunk driving deaths stubbornly stuck at about 1/3 of all highway deaths. Sure the numbers have decreased, but so have all highway deaths, how much of that can be attributed to the lower legal limit is up for debate.
Finally, the biggest obstacle to implementation of the new proposal is the feeling by many Americans that the 0.05 limit would create a kind of police state where almost anyone would be subject to arrest and prosecution. A recent article by U.S. News and World Report found that the U.S. does not even rank among the top 25 worst countries in terms of drunk driving, so the need to push for such harsh laws is lost on most people.
Though the NTSB says America is lagging other countries on the drunk driving front, the majority of people are not eager to follow Europe’s overly restrictive lead on the issue. A recent New York Times editorial explained how those European countries that saw the biggest declines in drunk driving death rates not only lowered their legal limit to 0.05 percent, but also implemented random breathalyzer screenings of drivers, something that would not be acceptable in the United States. Others fear the slippery slope of increasingly lower legal limits. Most Americans would be vehemently opposed to follow in the footsteps of Sweden, which recently lowered its legal limit from 0.05 to 0.02. Such a low BAC level means that some drivers, especially women, would be deemed legally impaired after having less than one drink.
Source: “Too Drunk to Drive,” published at NYTimes.com.