D.C. councilmember, Muriel Bowser introduced a bill this week proposing to lower the legal limit for blood-alcohol for DUI charges. Bower is also running for mayor. Presently the limit is .08 in all 50 states and the District. Bower wants to lower the limit to .05. In 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states lower their legal limits to .05 percent. A similar bill was introduced but failed in New York last year.
Ironically, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, (MADD) does not endorse the lower threshold. The research is clear that drivers are impaired at the present .08 limit. The evidence is less conclusive at .05. The NTSB points to lower fatalities in European countries that have lowered the legal limit.
The plan has already met with severe skepticism. Each state chooses its laws concerning DUI's. Even with strong pressure from anti-drinking groups, it took twenty years for all states to move from .10 to .08. The transition from .10 to point .08 began in Utah in 1983 and was not complete until Delaware changed in 2004. Clearly, lawmakers would need to see compelling information to convince them that the limit should be lowered again.
Many citizens and lawyers assert that the present .08 blood alcohol level is too low. Lobbyist Ignacio Hernandez has worked on numerous drunk driving bills and lobbied on behalf of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. He reports that "If anything, we see cases when someone is at point .08 and there are questions about whether their driving is impaired….It just doesn't seem like there's enough justification [to lower the limit]" A person may be able to safely operate a vehicle with a .05 blood alcohol level. Ultimately, the NTSB recommendation goes beyond the science cited by public health and safety groups in the fight to eliminate drunk driving.
Clearly, drunk driving is a horrific problem. On average, drunk driving crashes, accounting for 31% of all traffic deaths (approximately 100,000) in the United States. However, the average BAC (blood-alcohol content) of a DUI driver involved in a fatal crash is .16. Only 1 percent of the 32,000 fatal crashes in the United States in 2013 involved people with a BAC level between .05 and .08. As a result, the new limit doesn't appear to be the most effective way to save lives.
Instead, the lower limit seems most likely to criminalize responsible behavior. With the .05 limit, a woman weighing less than 120 pounds could reach the legal threshold after one drink. Accordingly driving after a glass of wine with dinner could be illegal.
Drunk driving remains a hot button issue. Public perception and the law are constantly changing. Although a person may be able to responsibly operate a vehicle after minimal consumption, the safest course of behavior is to not operate a vehicle after drinking any amount of alcohol.