In an effort to cut down on the number of alcohol related accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board wants to lower the legal limit for driving from a 0.08 to 0.05 blood alcohol content in all states. That doesn't mean post-dinner-out driving standards will be more exacting anytime soon, though — indeed, the fight is just now underway, and from some of the most unlikely of people.
The NTSB's new recommendation is aimed at social drinkers rather than people who drink heavily and often, but the agency still hopes the lower limit will reduce the number of deaths on the road per year. (About a third of all traffic fatalities are from drunk driving.) So, for you, the casual drinker and generally responsible driver, The New York Times has a breakdown what this means for socializing at dinner time:
Blood-alcohol concentration varies by body weight, gender, stomach contents and other factors, but generally speaking, a 180-pound man could consume four beers or glasses of wine in 90 minutes without reaching the current limit. At a limit of 0.05 percent, he could legally consume only three. A 130-pound woman could probably consume three drinks in 90 minutes and still be legal under the existing standard; if the limit were lowered, she could consume only two.
Of course, the NTSB can't order the state or federal governments to do anything. They can only make recommendations about that one fewer beer. In fact, the recommendation to lower the legal limit isn't even receiving overwhelming support from those who typically campaign against drunk driving. "We don't expect any state to go to .05," said Jonathan Adkins, a (very realistic) Governors Highway Safety Association spokesman. "This recommendation is ludicrous," said Sarah Longwell, the (bottom line-focused) managing director of the American Beverage Institute. Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving — the lobbying group that won a string of victories in getting the national BAC levels in every state down from around 0.15 to 0.08 in the first place — isn't crazy about the new idea. They "would not oppose" the change, as the Times puts it, but ultimately the group supports other potential changes. This is the board "trying to focus on a group of people who are more social drinkers, who haven't been targeted in a while," said MADD rep J.T. Griffin, clearly seeking more widespread efforts on drunk driving.
Speaking of which, the more popular changes in the NTSB report are installing a breathalyzer interlock onto the cars of convicted drunk drivers, which would require them to pass a test before the car would start, or allowing police officers to immediately suspending someone's license when charging someone with drunk driving. So we'll see where the BAC recommendation goes from here and whether states adopt it or not. The U.S., Canada, and Iraq are the only remaining countries that use the 0.08 blood alcohol limit. Most other industrialized countries use the 0.05 limit.