Right Side Round Table: Should states lower blood-alcohol limits from .08 to .05?

Right Side Round Table: Should states lower blood-alcohol limits from .08 to .05?

June 13th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

Question of the week: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently called for states to lower blood-alcohol limits from .08 to .05. Do you agree that such a move is an effective way to reduce accidents and deaths on our roads? Are there better ways to curb impaired driving in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama?

The NTSB's heart is in the right place (whatever heart a huge federal bureaucracy can have) with its recommendation that states reduce their blood alcohol limits from .08 to .05. After all, it wants to prevent injuries and deaths related to drunken driving. But the push to lower the limits is a step too far.

Drivers whose blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is higher than .01 but lower than .08 account for only 5 percent of all highway deaths. Further, evidence is shaky about whether driving ability or awareness is significantly reduced for a driver with a BAC of between .05 and .08.

Alcohol-related driving accidents are caused largely by drivers with BAC levels exceeding .1. The NTSB's call to lower BAC standards, however, does nothing to get problem drinkers, or those with outrageous blood alcohol levels, off the road. Instead, it launches a witch hunt against casual drinkers who have two glasses of wine at dinner or a couple of beers at a happy hour and are perfectly capable of driving safely.

The steps taken to improve highway safety in recent decades are nothing to ignore.

But neither is the right of adults to responsibly consume one or two alcoholic beverages and drive, when doing so does little or nothing to increase the risk to themselves or the public.

- Free Press

Tennessee Rep. Tony Shipley


The recommendation to drop the blood alcohol limit to .05 would result in reducing alcohol-related highway deaths. Unfortunately, the average first-time DUI offender has driven 80 to 90 times before being caught -- and that fact applies at .08 or .05. The good news is, thanks to new Tennessee law, whether the law is lowered to .05 or stays at .08 a DUI offender's car would get an ignition interlock and he or she would not be able to become a second-time DUI offender.

I do not believe a drop to .05 is in the cards immediately. First, I have not seen studies supporting a drop to .05. Secondly, and most importantly, there are financial repercussions for the state. The money to install interlocks after DUI convictions comes from user fees. However, equal protection laws force the state to provide interlocks for those who cannot afford the $3/day interlock charge. While we have a surplus in the interlock funds, changing the system to accept no BAC over .05 could endanger the financial well-being of the life-saving program we have today at .08.

Perhaps we can start with non-felony penalties such as fines, community service and directed drivers' education classes for drivers with blood alcohol levels from .05 to .08.

Barry M. Martin

Georgia state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving

MADD Georgia applauds the long-standing efforts of the NTSB to ensure our safety. NTSB's recent proposal to lower the blood alcohol limit of drivers to .05 is certainly offered in that spirit. Several years ago NTSB also recommended a three-pronged approach to ending drunken driving, an initiative that MADD has fully embraced in the form of our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. MADD intends to stay the course set by the campaign, which includes support of high-visibility law enforcement, legislation that requires ignition interlock devices on the cars of all convicted drunken drivers and continued research into the cars of tomorrow which will include passive alcohol detection systems that prevent a vehicle's operation if the driver has been drinking. MADD believes that this is the quickest and most effective way to once and for all eliminate drunken driving and save the thousands of lives being lost every year to this crime.

Karen Bremmer

Executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association

The Georgia Restaurant Association is the state provider of ServSafe Alcohol Training and we represent members of our communities who follow state laws concerning the service of alcohol. The restaurant industry has deep concerns about drunken driving, however, we feel that efforts to reduce fatalities and increase safety should be focused on chronic repeat offenders who excessively drink and then drive. We support the recent measures taken by the Georgia Legislature creating legislation that mandates breathalyzer installation on the automobile ignitions of repeat offenders. We feel that these steps are more effective than punishing the many thousands of Georgians who enjoy an adult beverage in a responsible manner with a meal.