US officials recommend lowering DWI threshold to .05 blood alcohol
Law Offices of Tim Powers, Denton, Texas
WASHINGTON — States should cut their threshold for drunken driving
by nearly half— from .08 blood alcohol level to .05_matching a standard
that has substantially reduced highway deaths in other countries, a federal
safety board recommended Tuesday. That’s about one drink for a woman
weighing less than 120 pounds, two for a 160-pound man.
More than 100 countries have adopted the .05 alcohol content standard or
lower, according to a report by the staff of the National Transportation
Safety Board. In Europe, the share of traffic deaths attributable to drunken
driving was reduced by more than half within 10 years after the standard
was dropped, the report said.
NTSB officials said it wasn’t their intention to prevent drivers
from having a glass of wine with dinner, but they acknowledged that under
a threshold as low as .05 the safest thing for people who have only one
or two drinks is not to drive at all.
A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of
80-proof alcohol in most studies.
Alcohol concentration levels as low as .01 have been associated with driving-related
performance impairment, and levels as low as .05 have been associated
with significantly increased risk of fatal crashes, the board said.
New approaches are needed to combat drunken driving, which claims the lives
of about a third of the more than 30,000 people killed each year on U.S
highways — a level of carnage that that has remained stubbornly
consistent for the past decade and a half, the board said.
“Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired
death is preventable,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. “Alcohol-impaired
deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented.
The tools exist. What is needed is the will.”
An alcohol concentration threshold of .05 is likely to meet strong resistance
from states, said Jonathan Adkins, an official with the Governors Highway
Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices.
“It was very difficult to get .08 in most states so lowering it again
won’t be popular,” Adkins said. “The focus in the states
is on high (blood alcohol content) offenders as well as repeat offenders.
We expect industry will also be very vocal about keeping the limit at
Even safety groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and AAA declined
Tuesday to endorse NTSB’s call for a .05 threshold. The National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sets national safety policy,
stopped also short of endorsing the board’s recommendation.
“NHTSA is always interested in reviewing new approaches that could
reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road, and will work with any
state that chooses to implement a .05 BAC law to gather further information
on that approach,” the safety administration said in a statement.
The board recommended NHTSA established “incentive grants”
designed to encourage states to adopt the lower threshold.
A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has estimated that
7,082 deaths would have been prevented in 2010 if all drivers on the road
had blood alcohol content below .08 percent.
The lower threshold was one of nearly 20 recommendations made by the board,
including that states adopt measures to ensure more widespread use of
use of alcohol ignition interlock devices. Those require a driver to breathe
into a tube, much like the breathalyzers police ask suspected drunken
drivers to use.
The board has previously recommended states require all convicted drunken
drivers install the interlock devices in their vehicles as a condition
to resume driving. Currently, 17 states and two California counties require
all convicted drivers use the devices.
However, only about a quarter of drivers ordered to use the devices actually
end up doing so, the board said. Drivers use a variety of ways to evade
using the devices, including claiming they won’t drive at all or
don’t own a vehicle and therefore don’t need the devices,
the board said.
The board recommended the safety administration develop a program to encourage
states to ensure all convicted drivers actually use the devices. The board
also recommended that all suspected drunken drivers whose licenses are
confiscated by police be required to install interlocks as a condition
of getting their licenses reinstated even though they haven’t yet
been convicted of a crime.
Courts usually require drivers to pay for the devices, which cost about
$50 to $100 to buy plus a $50 a month fee to operate, staff said.
The board has previously called on the safety administration and the auto
industry to step up their research into technology for use in all vehicles
that can detect whether a driver has elevated blood alcohol without the
driver breathing into a tube or taking any other action. Drivers with
elevated levels would be unable to start their cars.
But the technology is still years away.
Studies show more than 4 million people a year in the U.S. drive while
intoxicated, but about half of the intoxicated drivers stopped by police
escape detection, the NTSB report said. The board also recommended expanded
use of passive alcohol devices by police. The devices are often contained
in real flash lights or shaped to look like a cellphone that officers
wear on their shirt pockets or belts. If an officer points the flashlight
at a driver or the cellphone-like device comes in close proximity to an
intoxicated driver, the devices will alert police who may not have any
other reason to suspect drunken driving.
The use of the devices currently is very limited, the report said.
Dramatic progress was made in the 1980s through the mid-1990s after the
minimum drinking age was raised to 21 and the legally-allowable maximum
level of drivers’ blood alcohol content was lowered to .08, the
report said. Today, drunken driving claims nearly 10,000 lives a year,
down from 21,000 in 1982. At that time, alcohol-related fatalities accounted
for 48 percent of highway deaths.
The board made its recommendations on the 25th anniversary of one of the
nation’s deadliest drunken driving accidents in Carrollton, Ky.
A drunk driver drove his pickup on the wrong side of a highway, collided
with a bus and killed 27 people, 24 of them children. The children were
part of a church youth group on their way home after spending the day
at an amusement park.
If you are seeking aggressive criminal representation by an experienced
criminal defense attorney for your Denton County DWI case or arrest in
Denton County, contact the offices of Tim Powers today. There is no charge
or obligation for the initial consultation.940.580.2899
*Tim Powers is an attorney licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court
of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For
legal advice about any specific legal question you should directly consult
Criminal Defense Lawyers with Unparalleled Passion for Success Providing
Quality Representation for your Denton, Lewisville, Flower Mound, Carrollton,
Corinth, Highland Village Dallas, Plano, McKinney, Denton County, Tarrant
County, Collin County, or Dallas County DWI Arrest