Michigan would be one of two states in the country with a drunk driving threshold of less than .08 blood alcohol concentration under legislation introduced in the state House Thursday.
House Bills 4420 and 4421, introduced by state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, would lower Michigan’s blood alcohol concentration threshold for driving under the influence from 0.08 to 0.05. While many other countries have acceptable blood alcohol levels of .05 or lower for drinking and driving, Utah is currently the only U.S. state with a 0.05 limit.
Another bill in Hammoud’s package would require first-time convicted drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device on their vehicle, which requires drivers to take a breathalyzer test before the car can start.
Hammoud said he was inspired to introduce the legislation in part by the deaths of the Abbas family of Northville, who were killed on their way home from a vacation after a drunk driver drove in the opposite direction of traffic on I-75 in Lexington, Kentucky. The drunk driver, 41-year-old Joey Bailey of Kentucky, had a .306 blood-alcohol-level at the time of the crash – well above the 0.08 limit.
“These proposals will help change behaviors, and they are backed by the science, and they are backed by the leading experts combating drunk driving across our country,” he said. “We know that the current policies in place are not working, which is why we must do more.”
Representatives of national groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Safety Council, the National Transportation and Safety Board and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety came to Michigan in support of the legislation. Supporters estimate lowering the threshold for driving under the influence nationwide could result in an 11 percent decline in fatal alcohol crashes in the United States.
Helen Witty, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said it’s the first time the organization is backing state legislation supporting lowering the legal limit for drinking and driving to 0.05, and will be encouraging Michigan and other states to adopt the change.
“Research shows that critical driving skills are impaired at 0.05 BAC, significantly increasing the risk of a horrible, 100 percent preventable crash,” Witty said. “We want to do anything we can to support states that are trying to stop these tragedies and keep drunk drivers off the road.”
The American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade association based in Washington, D.C., came out against the plan Thursday, noting in a statement the focus of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others supporting the proposal “is now shifting to those who enjoy a drink or two over dinner – a group that is not overrepresented in traffic accidents.”
To become law, the bills would have to pass the state House, state Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The bills were referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
Hammoud isn’t the only public official in Michigan to suggest policy changes after the deaths of the Abbas family. U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, has introduced federal legislation that would require all new vehicles to have interlocking breathalyzers.