Washington, D.C.—Today the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officially recommended that policymakers lower the legal threshold for drunk driving from 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.05 percent as part of its “Safety Report on Eliminating Impaired Driving.” The American Beverage Institute (ABI), a restaurant trade association with over 8,000 members, criticized the recommendation for ignoring the science on impairment and targeting moderate drinkers instead of dangerous drunk drivers.
Over 70 percent of drunk driving fatalities are caused by drivers with BACs of 0.15 or higher (consumption of 6-7 drinks), and the average BAC of a drunk driver involved in a fatal crash is 0.16 percent—twice the current legal limit.
“This recommendation is ludicrous. Moving from 0.08 to 0.05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior,” said Sarah Longwell, Managing Director of ABI. “Further restricting the moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hardcore drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel. It would simply divert valuable public resources that should be used to pursue the most dangerous offenders and instead use them to target drivers engaging in perfectly safe behavior.”
Out of the over 32,000 U.S. traffic fatalities in 2011 (the most recent year for data), less than one percent were caused by drivers between 0.05 and 0.08 percent BAC. Lowering the legal limit is unlikely to lower the fatality rate further: A study of South Australia after the state lowered its BAC limit from 0.08 to 0.05 found that the lower limit did not significantly affect the number of alcohol related fatalities. A study of Denmark’s 0.05 law did not find a decrease in alcohol-related crashes in the first year after the law was adopted, but did find an increase in the number of drivers who said they will not consume any alcohol to avoid violating the law.
Longwell continued: “This is the latest attempt by traffic safety activist groups to expand the definition of ‘drunk’. A little over a decade ago, we lowered our legal limit from 0.1 percent after groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving assured the country that, based on all the science, 0.08 BAC was absolutely, unequivocally where the legal threshold should be set for drunk driving. Has the science changed? Or have anti-alcohol activists simply set their sights on a new goal?”