National Transportation Safety Board Recommends that BAC Limit Be Lowered

Over the last 30 years, the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths has been cut in half, from approximately 20,000 to just over 10,000. Nonetheless, public officials believe that alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents still pose a serious threat to public safety. Currently, all states set the legal limit for intoxication at .08 or eight percent of blood alcohol. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently voted to recommend that states lower the rate to .05.

The lower BAC limits have already been implemented in many European countries, according to officials. Nonetheless, public safety officers acknowledge that changing the laws in the United States will be difficult. The challenges to proposed changes in the BAC limit will likely come from a wide range of opponents, including beer, wine and alcohol manufacturers, as well as restaurants and bars that serve adult beverages. Under social liability/Dram shop laws, a person or establishment that serves alcohol to a person who then causes injury in a motor vehicle accident can be liable for those injuries. If the BAC limit is reduced to .05, argue opponents, it will unfairly place a burden on restaurant, tavern and bar owners (and on private individuals who host a party) to determine whether a person has exceeded the legal limit.

Because blood alcohol levels vary dramatically from person to person, based on a variety of factors, a person supplying beer or alcohol cannot reasonably rely on the number of drinks served. Furthermore, because the visible change in behavior of a person with a BAC of .05 may be negligible, purveyors of alcohol may not be able to tell when a person has had too much.

Law enforcement officials say that such a change will likely have little impact on how they monitor roads for DUI or DWI. Police will still pull over many who visibly demonstrate signs of intoxication, and will still make routine traffic stops for other violations that will lead to DUI/DWI arrests.

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