New York lawmakers are considering a bill that would make criminals out of responsible consumers. More specifically, S131 would lower the legal blood-alcohol concentration limit for driving by 40 percent from .08 to .05. It’s a threshold millions can reach after consuming little more than a single glass of wine.
Supporters argue the reduction will improve traffic safety. However, data suggests otherwise. The policy will instead distract from the true problem. Its proponents are all about looking tough on drunken driving while engaging in legislative theater.
According to the latest federal government data, three-fourths of traffic fatalities in which any amount of alcohol is detected in New York involve people with BACs of .10 or above. And the average BAC of a drunken driver involved in a fatal crash in the state is .19 — nearly four times the proposed new limit. These are the criminals policymakers and traffic safety officials should be putting in the crosshairs, not people who have always been considered responsible.
Very few deaths occur near the disputed .05 BAC level. University research suggests a driver at the proposed .05 standard is less impaired than someone talking on a hands-free cellphone. The fine for that impairment? Zero.
If .05 legislation is fair game, perhaps New York should adopt legislation that would subject the TWD (talking while driving) offender to the same penalties as DWI — including jail, license suspension and thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees. And given that research shows driving at 65 years of age or older is a greater impairment than driving at .05 BAC, we might consider a new crime of DWO (driving while older). Politicians should at least try to be consistent.
Proponents of .05 frequently attempt to debunk common sense by claiming the policy will deter drunken driving at all BAC levels. It’s a nice talking point, but flops when the rubber meets the road. A criminal who already breaks the law by driving well above the current .08 BAC standard is not changing their behavior because Albany dumbs down the term “drunk.”
Legitimately impaired drivers are a source of needless death in New York every year. It’s a problem that deserves real action, not political virtue signaling.
Jackson Shedelbower is the communications director of the American Beverage Institute.