It’s been nearly 10 years since every state in the U.S. agreed to alter the legal definition of drunk from 0.15 percent blood-alcohol content to 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content.
Now, federal officials are urging another reduction, this time down to 0.05 percent BAC.Our Gary DUI injury lawyers are in full support of this proposal, which was made recently by the National Transportation Safety Board as one of 20 recommendations to reduce the death toll on U.S. highways.
Every year, some 10,000 people are killed in drunk driving crashes. That’s about one-third of the total number of people who die on our nation’s roads.
The board indicated that it has tried other measures in recent years to drive down those rates, but with little success. Other efforts have included bolstering law enforcement initiatives and funneling money into public advocacy and awareness campaigns. And yet, the number of DUI deaths has hovered around 10,000 since 1995. In the last 30 years, we’re talking some 440,000 lives lost.
The board predicts that lowering the legal alcohol limit will save somewhere between 500 and 800 lives each year. The reason it isn’t higher is that the majority of drunk driving deaths are caused by individuals who have BACs that are well above 0.08 percent. This has been a point of contention for opponents of the measure. However, what the opposition is failing to consider is that in addition to the number of lives saved – each of which is precious – we will be also significantly reducing the number of injuries. Not everyone involved in a DUI crash dies. Many survive, but they may suffer lifelong, debilitating injuries that require surgeries, intensive treatments, rehabilitation and medication for chronic pain and other disabilities.
Lowering the threshold is also not an obscene intrusion. First of all, 100 other countries in the world have already adopted the 0.05 percent rate, including most of Europe. Secondly, consider that the average, 180-pound male will usually not hit the 0.08 percent limit until he’s had about four drinks in a little over an hour. By contrast, under the new limit, he would only be able to indulge in two or three. So this argument that someone couldn’t have a glass of wine with dinner simply doesn’t hold water.
Research has shown that the majority of drivers are going to experience a decline in both visual and cognitive functions once their BAC tops 0.05 percent.
It’s also an important measure in light of the recent ruling handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against police with regard to warrantless blood draws in DUI cases. In that case, Missouri v. McNeely, the court found that in order to take a blood sample from a suspected drunk driver, an officer would first have to obtain a warrant from a judge. Because alcohol dissipates quickly from a person’s system, every minute may be valuable to the case. If we are going to bolster the protections for drunk drivers, we should also do the same for their victims.
The NTSB’s recommendations, however, won’t automatically become law. It’s an independent agency that is influential on matters of public safety, but it will require the support of Congress and state legislators to actually implement such a measure.