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Safety Leader Defends Proposal To Lower Limit For Drunk Driving

The National Transportation Safety Board voted unanimously in support of a proposal to lower blood alcohol limits for drunk driving from .08 to .05 last May. The group contended that adoption of a lower standard would save between 500 and 800 lives every year by reducing drunk driving car accidents. Since that proposal, no state has moved to make the recommended change and several prominent safety organizations have failed to endorse the move. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Governors Highway Safety Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving have declined to endorse the move. Despite the cool response NTSB chair Deborah Hersman indicated that the group is confident that the lower BAC limit will eventually be adopted.

NTSB data shows that 31 percent of traffic deaths in 2011 were the result of drunken driving. During that year, drunk motorists caused nearly 10,000 deaths and 170,000 injuries. It is a massive problem that has drawn the attention of many safety experts. There have been many suggestions for how to reduce the incidents caused by drivers who have had too much to drink.

Many proposals for reducing drunk driving deaths have drawn heavy criticism. Some are deemed too expensive or too intrusive, such as the suggestion to equip all vehicles with breathalyzer devices. The proposal to lower the BAC limit drew criticisms that perfectly safe behavior would become a crime. A spokesperson for the American Beverage Institute declared that the lower limit would be a ban on having a glass of wine with dinner. The limit of .05 would generally limit a small woman to one drink or a medium sized male to two drinks in an hour.

The NHTSA said that they declined to support the proposal because they did not have data to support the claims of the NTSB. The NHTSA administrator said that the data came from European countries that have already lowered limits drunk driving. If further study confirms the estimates of the NTSB, more safety organizations and the states themselves may choose to revisit the issue. The NTSB remains confident they will do so in time.

Source: The Detroit News, “NTSB not giving up on proposal to drop drunken driving alcohol limits,” by David Shepardson, 16 September 2013

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