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NTSB: Cut drunk driving accidents by lowering allowed BAC to .05

When it comes to how much you can drink and still legally drive, the current standard in Texas and all other U.S. jurisdictions has been a blood alcohol content of less than .08 percent. The allowable BAC has been at .08 since the mid-80s and 90s, after traffic safety and other interest groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving lobbied for years to have the law passed in every state.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, however, the .08 standard isn't doing enough to stop drunk driving accidents from killing thousands of people every year. Since the allowable BAC in the many other industrialized countries is .05, the agency has just announced its recommendation that the U.S. follow suit.

Government statistics show that around 30 percent of all fatal traffic accidents involve drunk driving. That is a big improvement since driving while intoxicated first became a major political issue during the Reagan administration, when half of all fatal crashes involved someone who was DWI.

Over that same period, the actual number of fatalities from drunk driving accidents has dropped from approximately 21,000 per year to around 10,000 a year now. That seems to be a plateau, however, and many organizations including the NTSB think more needs to be done.

"There are at least 10,000 reasons to tackle this issue," emphasized the NTSB board chairwoman.

In addition to lowering the acceptable blood alcohol level to .05, the NTSB has also recommended requiring ignition interlock devices for everyone convicted of driving drunk. This Breathalyzer-like device is installed in the driver's car -- at their own expense -- and won't let the car start without a sober driver.

Somewhat more controversial has been the group's endorsement of ignition interlocks being installed in all cars. These would test the ambient air or the skin of the driver for evidence of intoxication.

Interestingly, MADD is not fully behind the proposed change from .08 to .05. While it won't fight that recommendation and supports many of the NTSB's proposals, one spokesperson thought the focus should be on high-BAC drivers and repeat offenders. Instead, the NTSB seems to be "trying to focus on a group of people who are more social drinkers, who haven't been targeted in a while," he said.

What do you think? Is .05 to strict? If we changed the law, would it cut down on DWI accidents and fatalities?

Source: The New York Times, "States Urged to Cut Limit on Alcohol for Drivers," Matthew L. Wald, May 14, 2013

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