NTSB recommends lowering drunk-driving threshold

February 6, 2019

In the National Transportation Safety Board’s annual "Most Wanted" list, the government organization called on all states to move to a .05 blood alcohol content (BAC) threshold to categorize drunk driving. The proposal argues for lowering the limit from the current national legal limit of .08.

The NTSB said impairment behind the wheel is still a major contributing factor in vehicle crashes. Alcohol is the leading cause of highway crashes, the NTSB said. The organization urged states to adopt the stricter .05 BAC threshold and increase countermeasures such as "high-visibility enforcement."

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The BAC regulations varied by state until 1998 when former President Bill Clinton called for a national .08 standard. A series of bills was passed, and by 2001, states that did not impose a .08 law would lose federal highway construction funds. States are still able to set their own, more stringent laws, but all 50 at least adhere to the .08 regulation.

 

On Jan. 1, Utah became the first state to impose a .05 legal limit. Critics of the law feared diners and tourists would avoid the state for fear of unknowingly having too much to drink and driving. The .05 BAC translates to roughly three alcoholic beverages in an hour for a 160-pound man. A 137-pound woman could reach the new legal limit with just two drinks in an hour.

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Most states already impose harsher penalties should drivers operate a vehicle with a higher BAC level than the federal standard. For example, Pennsylvania drivers meet less leeway from a judge should they register a 0.1 BAC.

The NTSB hopes the federal government will move to create a national drug testing standard. The call comes as more states legalize recreational marijuana and even more legalize medical use of the drug.

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