They've finally done it. The National Transportation Safety Board today recommended lowering the blood-alcohol level for drunk driving to .05%.
Washington, D.C. May 14 — A common benchmark in the United States for determining when a driver is legally drunk is not doing enough to prevent alcohol-related crashes that kill about 10,000 people each year and should be made more restrictive, transportation safety investigators say.
The National Transportation Safety Board recommended on Tuesday that all 50 states adopt a blood-alcohol content (BAC) cutoff of 0.05 compared to the 0.08 standard on the books today and used by law enforcement and the courts to prosecute drunk driving…
The NTSB investigates transportation accidents and advocates on safety issues. It cannot impose its will through regulation and can only recommend changes to federal and state agencies or legislatures, including Congress.
But the independent agency is influential on matters of public safety and its decisions can spur action from like-minded legislators and transportation agencies nationwide. States set their own BAC standards….
In the early 1980s, when grass-roots safety groups brought attention to drunk driving, many states required a 0.15 BAC rate to demonstrated intoxication.
But over the next 24 years, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups pushed states to adopt the 0.08 BAC standard, the last state falling in line in 2004…
Based upon this recommendation — and, as in the past, some pressure on the states to withhold federal highway funds if the new DUI standard is not adopted — it is likely that we will all see the.05% level enacted as law over the next few years.
The article mentioned an earlier blood-alcohol level of .15% in some states. Let me offer a more accurate history to give context to today's federal action….
The original drunk driving laws were simple and fair: Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Then, many years ago, law enforcement came up with crude devices to measure alcohol on the breath of drunk driving suspects. But what did, say, a .13% blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) mean? They turned to the American Medical Association which, in 1938, created a "Committee to Study Problems of Motor Vehicle Accidents"; at the same time, the National Safety Council set up a "Committee on Tests for Intoxication".
After some study, these two groups came up with their findings: a driver with .15% BAC or higher could be presumed to be "under the influence"; those under .15% could not. That’s right: .15%. And that recommendation lasted for 22 years. But prosecutors and certain groups of "concerned mothers" were not happy with the low DUI arrest and conviction rates.
Under increasing political pressure, the committees "revisited" the question in 1960 and agreed to lower the presumed level of intoxication to .10%. Had the human body changed in 22 years? Had the AMA been negligent in their earlier studies? Or were politics and law trumping scientific truth?
Well, the arrest and conviction rates shot up, but there were still too many people escaping the DUI net. Then MADD was formed by Candy Lightner (later to quit the organization in disgust and become a spokesperson for the liquor industry). Soon after, legislation began appearing in many states that created a second crime: driving with a BAC of .10% or higher.
This new crime did not require the driver to be affected by alcohol: even if sober, he would be guilty if his blood-alcohol was .10%. In effect, it completely ignored the questions of intoxication, driving impairment and individual tolerance to alcohol. And, despite questions of double jeopardy, the individual could be charged and even convicted of both the traditional DUI and the new .10% crimes! This gave police and prosecutors a powerful new weapon, and drunk driving arrests/convictions jumped once again.
This was not good enough. Under increasing pressure from an ever more powerful MADD, in 1990 four states lowered the blood-alcohol level in DUI cases to .08%; others soon followed and, ten years later, federal politicians (with one eye on MADD) passed an appropriations bill in effect coercing all states into adopting the new .08% BAC standard.
Since then, there has been continued pressure on federal agencies and state legislatures to drop the blood-alcohol level to .05% — resulting in today's announcement by the NTSB.
What is the next step in MADD's march toward a new era of Prohibition? Well, that should be obvious: .01% — exactly as is currently used across the country on drivers under the age of 21.
Not coincidentally, these .01% so-called "zero tolerance" laws were also championed by MADD and imposed on all of the states by the feds with the threat of withholding highway funds.
(Thanks to Matthew S. Kensky and "Joe" for the article.)