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In January, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) once again recommended that the blood alcohol content (BAC) measure used to determine drunk driving be reduced. The BAC standard in all states is now .08%. NTSB urges that this be lowered to .05%.
The call came as part of the release of NTSB’s annual most wanted transportation safety improvements for 2016, a compilation of ten actions that NTSB wants to see in order to improve transportation safety across the United States. Some of the other items include promoting collision avoidance technology in cars and trucks; getting portable electronic devices out of the hands of drivers; and completing important rail safety initiatives, such as positive train control, which the agency believes would prevent many accidents (such as the December 2015 Philadelphia derailment that killed 8 and injured more than 200).
While the NTSB urges lowering the BAC limit—and has recommended this reduction since 2013—it has no authority to implement it. Each state decides on its own what limit to enforce.
Several decades ago, states began adopting BAC measures as indicators of “per se” operating under the influence (that is, if a driver was found to have this level or higher, it was automatically illegal). Since 2004, all states have used .08% as their BAC standard. No state has yet to lower its limit below .08%.
However, in many states, the authorities are not restricted by that measure. If any alcohol at all is detected, a driver may still be charged with operating under the influence if impairment is observed. Almost every state also applies more severe penalties when a higher BAC level is detected (typically around .15%, but in some cases as low as .10%)
The NTSB call for a lower BAC standard comes as part of a larger initiative to move toward zero tolerance for driving under the influence of any substance. Alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and even over-the-counter medications impair the ability of a driver to operate their vehicle safely. According to NTSB information, one-third of all fatal accidents involve alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that at least 112 million trips each year are made by drivers who meet the legal standard of alcohol impairment.
In making the .05% recommendation for BAC, the NTSB notes that the current standard allows many impaired drivers to endanger themselves and others. Their research shows that by the time a driver’s BAC reaches .08%, their risk of a fatal crash is already more than double that of an unimpaired driver.
Some drivers still view BAC as a threshold—that if they stay under this number they’ll be fine. This belief is dangerous. You should never drive after drinking or after using any substance which might impair your ability to operate your vehicle safely. If you’ve been at a party or other event, use a designated driver. If you see someone about to get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t, convince them to stop.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a car accident, especially one involving a drunk driver, you are urged to contact the Indianapolis Automobile Accident Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.