Friday, May 17, 2013
NTSB Pushes States To Lower Legal Alcohol Limit
The National Transportation Safety Board took a surprising step earlier this week when it recommended that the all states, including Tennessee, lower the threshold for what constitutes impaired driving.
Currently, Tennessee state law says that drivers who are operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.08 percent are impaired. This number is supposed to indicate the level at which the majority of drivers are intoxicated enough that they cannot safely operate a vehicle. Every state in the country follows this rule, as do many other countries around the world, including neighboring Canada, which also deems those with a BAC above 0.08 legally impaired.
The NTSB has now said that, as part of its larger push to completely eliminate incidents of drunk driving in the U.S., all states should lower the legal limit to 0.05 percent. Though some groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, have come out in support of the recommendation, there are significant concerns that should be taken into consideration by lawmakers facing a possible change. First, lowering the number will likely lead to many hundreds or thousands more drunk driving arrests each year. Already huge numbers of Tennesseans have DUI convictions on their records, expensive and embarrassing mistakes that surface even years later in school applications and job interviews. Whether it would do anyone any good to flood the criminal justice system with more impaired drivers is a question worth considering.
Another concern is whether there would truly be a substantial benefit to making the change. The NTSB claims that by lowering the BAC from 0.08 to 0.05, between 500 and 800 lives would be saved each year by getting those who have had a few drinks off the roadways. The problem is that alcohol is a relative thing and by lowering the legal limit even further, the NTSB is ignoring that fact that some drivers may be convicted of a crime who are actually perfectly safe to operate a vehicle. Factors such as age, weight, height and gender can dramatically influence how alcohol affects a person and the truth is that even at 0.05 percent, some drivers might demonstrate some signs of impairment. However, that does not mean that the number must be lowered across the board for all other drivers.
In terms of real life behaviors, the decrease recommend by the NTSB will lead to big changes. Currently, a 180-pound man can have three drinks in an hour and be under the existing 0.08 BAC limit. Under the new rules, that same man would only be able to have one to two drinks in an hour to avoid being found legally impaired. If such a change were implemented in Tennessee it would likely mean radical shifts in people’s behavior and take some time to learn what kind of social drinking is legally acceptable.
Read: “NTSB recommends lowering blood alcohol level that constitutes drunken driving,” by Tom Costello, published at NBCNews.com.
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