- Saying that impaired driving remains one of the biggest killers in the U.S., the National Transportation Safety Board is pushing to lower the recommended legal blood alcohol content for drivers from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.
- Experts say one drink could put a 100-pound woman at the 0.05 limit.
- The drastic drop in the threshold is expected to face a tough fight in gaining acceptance among the states.
WASHINGTON — Saying that impaired driving remains one of the biggest killers in the U.S., the National Transportation Safety Board is pushing to lower the recommended legal blood alcohol content for drivers from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent. Experts say one drink could put a 100-pound woman at the 0.05 limit.
The drastic drop in the threshold is expected to face a tough fight in gaining acceptance among the states. The Governors Highway Safety Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving have not endorsed the crackdown.
The drastic drop is among 19 recommendations NTSB is making to draw attention to the 10,000 deaths that still occur annually because of an alcohol-impaired driver, making up nearly a third of all highway deaths. More than 173,000 are injured, with 27,000 becoming incapacitated.
"Most Americans think that we've solved the problem of impaired driving, but in fact, it's still a national epidemic," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman, in a statement. "On average, every hour one person is killed and 20 more are injured."
The NTSB cited research that showed that impairment begins with the first drink, with drowsiness beginning at 0.02. By 0.05, most drivers experience a decline in both cognitive and visual functions, which significantly increases the risk of a crash.
Furthermore, Hersman pointed out that the United States trails the world on its tough alcohol stance. Currently, more than 100 countries on six continents, including Australia, Spain and Argentina, have blood alcohol limits set at 0.05 or lower. The NTSB has asked all 50 states to do the same.
"The United States prides itself on being a leader in transportation safety, but, when it comes to alcohol-impaired driving, our nation is woefully behind many of our international counterparts," Hersman said.
While the NTSB recommendations do not carry the force of law, the independent agency has long influenced the states on public safety. It hopes to sweeten the idea by having the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration award grants to states that drop the blood alcohol to 0.05 percent.
NTSB also recommends law enforcement host sobriety checkpoints and use such tools as passive alcohol sensors to detect alcohol vapor, as well special ignition technology that prevents a car from starting if it detects if the driver had been drinking.
It also would like states to establish specialized DWI courts in addressing the particular challenges represented by repeat offenders. DWI courts hold offenders accountable through intensive monitoring, treatment for underlying disorders, alcohol testing and graduated sanctions.
The recommendations are part of a 90-page report, Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving.
NTSB held the vote on the 25th anniversary of the nation's deadliest alcohol-impaired crash, when a drunk driver drove his pickup the wrong way on Interstate 71 near Carrollton, Kentucky, hitting a school bus, and killed 24 children and three adults and injured 34 more people.
"Alcohol-impaired crashes are not accidents," said Hersman. "They are crimes. They can — and should — be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will."
Edmunds says: Are these new limits a sound idea — or a way to criminalize the driving of much of the public?