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NTSB Recommends Lowering Blood Alcohol Limit to .05

The front page of the Columbus Dispatch yesterday was a huge photo of a beer with the headline: “New Lower Drunken Driving Limit Proposed.”   The article talks about the new recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) asking states to lower the legal limit for alcohol to 0.05 (the limit in all 50 states in currently .08).

The purpose, the NTSB says, behind this new recommendation is to reduce traffic fatalities caused by drunk drivers.  The most interesting part of the article was the quote from the American Beverage Institute, which pointed out that:  “Between 0.05 and 0.08 is not where fatalities are occurring. This is like, people are driving through an intersection at 90 miles an hour and so you drop the speed limit from 35 to 25, it doesn’t make any sense.”  Good point.

The Dispatch goes on to note that in Ohio, alcohol-related crashes declined 14 percent last year, but the number of fatalities attributed to drinking increased.  I wonder, though, if you went back and looked at the BAC of the drunk driver in those fatal crashes whether the driver was under 0.08.  My guess would be no.

Regardless, the DUI lawyer communities were blowing up yesterday with this news.  Will Ohio adopt this lower limit?  What does this mean for bars and restaurants?  Is the average person actually impaired at the .05 limit?  Will this in reality reduce crashes due to drunk drivers?   The New York Times article on the issue cites this statistic in response: People with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent are 38% more likely to be involved in a crash than those who have not been drinking, according to government statistics. People with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent are 169% more likely to be involved in a crash.

I am sure that research, discussion and counterpoints will continue as the federal government starts making policy decisions (i.e. will they tie lowering the limit to federal highway funds?) and the states — including Ohio — start debating the issue.

The New York Times article also notes that generally, a 180-pound man could consume four beers or glasses of wine in 90 minutes without reaching the current 0.08 limit.  If the limit were reduced to 0.05, he could legally consume three beers or glasses of wine.   Likewise, a 130-pound woman could probably consume three drinks in 90 minutes and be legal under the .08 standard.  If the limit were lowered to .05, she could consume only two.  So essentially, lowering the limit means that most people must consume one less drink to stay legal.