In May, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended lowering the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) benchmark from 0.08 to 0.05.
On the surface, it seems like a reasonable initiative because drunk driving accounts for a third of all road deaths in the United States. But critics—generally led by CEOs of beer companies—question the efficacy of the change. (Or perhaps they just aren’t willing to give up that extra drink or wait an extra hour before clambering into their car.)
In other words, the question remains: Would a stricter BAC level significantly decrease the incidence of drunk driving accidents?
The statistics: How many lives would be changed if we lowered the legal driving limit?
On one side, the statistics are pretty impressive.
The NTSB believes that if all 50 states changed their standard to .05, nearly 1,000 lives could be saved each year.
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.
From a medicinal point of view, the symptoms of impairment can kick in before a person’s BAC actually reaches 0.08, and these symptoms can affect driving.
- 0.04%: decreased vigilance
- 0.05%: decreased depth perception and visual impairment, reduced coordination
- 0.06%: trouble tracking objects, difficulty steering
- 0.07%: impaired cognitive abilities
- 0.08%: Short-term memory loss, decreased speed control, impaired perception and concentration
Fatal accidents: Are we just targeting the wrong population?
Others argue that dropping the BAC doesn’t really solve the heart of the issue. Many of the accidents caused on the road are caused by drivers with a BAC much higher than the legal limit. Dropping the BAC can prevent many moderate drinkers from driving, but it does nothing to stop really drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.
After all, the majority of fatal accidents are caused by people with a BAC over 0.15
In the state of California, only 5% of drivers involved in traffic crashes had a BAC between 0.01 and 0.07, but 29% of all fatalities involved a driver with a BAC of over 0.08. Of those,
- those with a BAC of 0.08-0.14 caused 9% of alcohol impaired fatalities
- those with a BAC over 0.15 caused 20% of alcohol impaired fatalities
The Big Picture
Whichever way you look at it, the conclusion remains similar: dropping the BAC level will certainly save lives, but another change could save even more lives. The problem is that we don’t know exactly what that change could be.
In reality, it’s impossible to prevent drunk driving completely. No amount of education or prevention will keep a heavily intoxicated person from getting behind the wheel.
Of course, this is just a recommendation. If accepted, it will take years before the law is enforced. The Department of Transportation must first endorse this recommendation, and then each state must decide whether or not to accept it. (The last move from .10 to .08 BAC levels took 21 years for each state to implement.)
Their responsibility, your responsibility.
Instead of waiting for democracy to kick in, let’s ask ourselves this: What can we do?
The government has a responsibility to keep our roads safe, but family and friends have the responsibility to intervene and help a loved one who is struggling with heavy drinking.
The consequences of alcohol use and abuse can cause problems beyond the asphalt road, such as broken relationship, financial difficulties, and medical problems. But it doesn’t have to get that far, if only you take the initiative to intervene.
If you’re worried about a loved one hurting themselves or others, call us today (707-348-4874).