Recently the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) has made a recommendation that could have a major impact on drunk-driving laws throughout the United States. Currently, all states consider a person drunk if their Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is measured at .08 or above. But now the NTSB suggests lowering that to .05. The goal is to lower the number of serious motor vehicle accidents that involve drunk drivers.
NBC News reports that every year almost 10,000 people die in alcohol-related traffic accidents and 170,000 are seriously injured. Though that is a big improvement over the last 30 years when there were 20, 000 fatalities each year from DUI -related accidents, MADD, many law enforcement officials and other supporters of tough DUI laws want more done to discourage drunk driving. Now that this federal agency has spoken, action may be forthcoming because, despite harsh sentences for DUI and increased public awareness of the dangers involved, "roughly 4 million people admit to driving while under the influence of alcohol" each year. These facts and the NTSB's significant influence may lead to the legal definition of "drunk" being altered soon.
Of course, despite the dangers that driving under the influence poses, not everyone supports the lowering of the legal threshold. Restaurant owners and trade organizations argue that lowering the BAC level to .05 will not stop repeat offenders or the people most prone to driving while drunk. Instead, they argue, responsible adults may be discouraged from having a drink or two with dinner or at social gatherings for fear of harsh reprisal. But for critics of the NTSB proposal, success does not look promising: nearly every country in the world that has drunk-driving laws makes a BAC of .05 the legal threshold for being drunk. Iraq and the United States are the only two exceptions.
Perhaps trade organizations and some moderate drinkers will aggressively protest the changing of the law. But even for the most ardent civil libertarians, arguing that the threshold should not be lowered is fairly difficult. And, for people who have heard the stories or have actually lost loved ones or endured catastrophic injuries as the result of a drunk-driver's negligent and irresponsible behavior, even .05 may be too generous.