D.C. councilmember, Muriel Bowser introduced a bill this week proposing
to lower the legal limit for blood-alcohol for
DUI charges. Bower is also running for mayor. Presently the limit is .08 in
all 50 states and the District. Bower wants to lower the limit to .05.
In 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states
lower their legal limits to .05 percent. A similar bill was introduced
but failed in New York last year.
Ironically, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, (MADD) does not endorse the
lower threshold. The research is clear that drivers are impaired at the
present .08 limit. The evidence is less conclusive at .05. The NTSB points
to lower fatalities in European countries that have lowered the legal limit.
The plan has already met with severe skepticism. Each state choses its
laws concerning DUI's. Even with strong pressure from anti-drinking
groups, it took twenty years for all states to move from .10 to .08. The
transition from .10 to point .08 began in Utah in 1983 and was not complete
until Delaware changed in 2004. Clearly lawmakers would need to see compelling
information to convince them that the limit should be lowered again.
Many citizens and lawyers assert that the present .08 blood alcohol level
is too low. Lobbyist Ignacio Hernandez, has worked on numerous drunk driving
bills and lobbied on behalf of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice.
He reports that "If anything, we see cases when someone is at point
.08 and there are questions about whether their driving is impaired….It
just doesn't seem like there's enough justification [to lower
the limit]" A person may be able to safely operate a vehicle with
a .05 blood alcohol level. Ultimately, the NTSB recommendation goes beyond
the science cited by public health and safety groups in the fight to eliminate
Clearly, drunk driving is a horrific problem. On average, drunk driving
crashes, account for 31% of all traffic deaths (approximately 100,000)
in the United States. However, the average BAC (blood-alcohol content)
of a DUI driver involved in a fatal crash is .16. Only 1 percent of the
32,000 fatal crashes in the United States in 2013 involved people with
a BAC level between .05 and .08. As a result, the new limit doesn't
appear to be the most effective way to save lives.
Instead, the lower limit seems most likely to criminalize responsible behavior.
With the .05 limit, a woman weighing less than 120 pounds could reach
the legal threshold after one drink. Accordingly driving after a glass
of wine with dinner could be illegal.
Drunk driving remains a hot button issue. Public perception and the law
are constantly changing. Although a person may be able to responsibly
operate a vehicle after minimal consumption, the safest course of behavior
is to not operate a vehicle after drinking any amount of alcohol.