Fox News is reporting that the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) is proposing that states should “reduce their threshold for drunken driving from the current 0.08 blood alcohol content to 0.05.” What will this mean? Essentially lowering the rate would mean that a “woman could be charged for driving after one drink and a man after two.” NTSB has proposed this number based on studies showing that other countries uses 0.05% and it substantially reduces highway deaths

In reality, it is up to the states to decide what their Blood Alcohol Content (“BAC”) rates are set at, but the NTSB’s recommendation could result in the federal government pressuring states to meet its standard by threatening to withhold highway funding if they choose not to comply. Deborah Hersman, the chair of NTSB stated that their “goal is to get zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable.” Ms. Hersman emphasized that “alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes.”

Time Magazine reported that the “five member NTSB board unanimously voted for the change in an effort to address the 10,000 people who die each year in drunk driving accidents, and the nearly four million people who admit to getting behind the wheel under the influence.”

Countries in Europe are some of the leaders who adopted the 0.05 alcohol content standard or lower. The results have shown that as soon as the alcohol content standard was lowered, “drunken driving deaths were cut by more than half a decade after the stricter standard was implemented.” Australia also saw a decline in deaths from drunk driving after implementing the lower BAC standard. Although the results are promising, the main concern is actually getting the states on board with lowering the threshold.

When the alcohol content was first lowered to 0.08%, it was very difficult. Further, although the NTSB has voted and recommended the change, they “have no authority to enforce their recommendation, and it remains up to the states and the Department of Transportation to enforce it.” Those who oppose the change such as the “American Beverage Institute told NBC News that ‘moving from 0.08 to 0.05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior.” In response, Bruce Goldman, “director of Substance Abuse Services at The Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glens Oak New York” stated that “people with a BAC of 0.05 are quite impaired” whether they appear to be or not.

Currently, the main focus in the states is not the blood alcohol content standard but the repeat offenders. NTSB also advocates that states “adopt measures to ensure more widespread use of alcohol ignition interlock devices.” Additionally, NTSB is aware that there is “potential backlash” of their proposal, and is also “recommending greater penalties for offenders and better use of emerging technologies to detect alcohol.”

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