Should We Lower Blood-Alcohol Limits?
Though the blood-alcohol content (BAC) level of .08% is a universal standard that legally determines whether someone is too intoxicated to drive, early this year the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine published a report which strongly recommends that all 50 states lower it to .05%. The report, sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), notes that an average person’s ability to operate any motor vehicle (especially a motorcycle) begins to degrade at even lower BAC levels than the current .08%, increasing a driver’s risk of causing an accident.
It states that countries such as Austria, Denmark, and Japan have lowered their BAC laws to .05% and suggests that the U.S incorporate this as a standard too. The committee which conducted the research further recommends the BAC limit should be reinforced with media campaigns and tough enforcement.
The report declares that several factors, such as a person’s weight, age, gender, race, and ability to metabolize alcohol, along with inconsistent serving sizes and the how alcohol interacts with caffeine and energy drinks, can compromise a person’s ability to appreciate their level of impairment. This is why reducing drinking to the point of impairment is critically important, according to the Academies’ report.
Several other key points drew the researchers’ attention and advocacy.
Increase alcohol taxes – The report cites the fact that higher alcohol taxes can lower binge drinking and associated alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities. But when adjusted for inflation, those taxes have declined at federal and state levels. The report also revealed that the recently passed 2017 tax bill lowers federal alcohol excise taxes by 16%.
Reduce the sale and availability of alcohol – The Academies recommend that state and local governments reduce alcohol availability, especially at the on- and off-premises outlets (package stores and supermarkets where it is not consumed) and the times when alcohol is sold. It also proposes new or beefed-up penalties for retailers which illegally sell alcohol to customers who are already intoxicated.
Aggressive use of ignition interlock devices – The report urges all states to enact stricter laws to require ignition interlocks for all offenders whose BAC is above the .05% limit. They cite strong evidence from the U.S. and other countries that those convicted of alcohol-impaired driving who are ordered to have ignition interlocks installed on their vehicles (breath alcohol analyzers which can prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver is intoxicated) are less likely to be rearrested for alcohol-related driving or to have an accident..
Other programs suggested by the Academies include:
- Aggressive monitoring and punishment of improper alcohol advertising and marketing
- Increased sobriety checkpoints
- Specialized DWI courts which give equal focus to punishment and treatment
- Promotion of the availability, convenience, and affordability of alternative transportation
- Development of noninvasive, in-vehicle technologies that keep drivers from operating vehicles when their BAC exceeds the limits set by state law.
In order to ensure coordination, the Academies suggest that the NHTSA create a federal coordinating committee to develop and oversee an interagency-based integrated strategy, which is committed to reducing alcohol-impaired driving.