The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended last week that the blood-alcohol level used to determine whether a driver is legally drunk be lowered in every state to .05 from the present level of .08.
“(The endorsement) is critical because DUI remains one of the biggest killers in the United States,” NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman explained to the board. “In the last 30 years, more than 440,000 people have perished in this country due to alcohol-impaired driving.”
According to a report to the board, lowering the blood-alcohol rate to .05 would save 500 to 800 lives each year.
The NTSB’s recommendation was met with mixed reactions — spokespeople for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers were receptive to it, members of the Governors Highway Safety Association were less inclined to approve, and a spokesperson for the American Beverage Institute was downright dismissive. “When the limit was .10, it was very difficult to get it lowered to .08,” Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the governor’s group was quoted as telling USA Today. “We don’t expect every state to go to .05.” Denver DUI attorney Jay Tiftickjian told 9News that the proposal will not have much effect on Colorado, where a BAC of over .05 raises an inference of driving while ability impaired under Colorado DUI law. However, the recommendation could make DUI in Colorado
NTSB board staffers noted, however, that the United States is one of the few developed countries in the world that has set drunken-driving levels at above .05. Many states, including Colorado, already recognize the .05 blood-alcohol level as representing someone whose ability to drive is impaired, and they will face legal consequences. A person is presumed to be “under the influence” if a blood or breath test reveals a blood-alcohol of at least 0.08.
While it is important to note that the NTSB lacks the ability to make laws, historically its recommendations are taken seriously by legislators and other safety-based organizations. And, said NTSB board member Robert Molloy, “I think .05 is going to come. How long it takes to get there, we don’t know. But it will happen.”
The NTSB endorsement is part of a larger effort by the safety board — a program they’re calling “Roadmap to Reaching Zero” — to reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities. The NTSB adopted nine other recommendations today that reflect those goals, including: suspending a driver’s license immediately when a driver is arrested for being drunk; creating special courts to handle drunk-driving cases; requiring ignition interlocks on all first-time offenders; and the use of passive alcohol sensors that police can use to “smell” the air during a traffic stop.