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Feds want stiffer alcohol limits

Published 12:02am Thursday, May 16, 2013

Federal safety regulators called Tuesday for lowering the legal limit for drivers’ blood alcohol content from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.

The National Transportation Safety Board also called for government incentives to prod states into lowering their drunk-driving standard.

“Most Americans think that we’ve solved the problem of impaired driving, but in fact, it’s still a national epidemic,” said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman. Research shows that drivers with a blood-alcohol content, or BAC, above 0.05 percent “are impaired and at a significantly greater risk of being involved in a crash where someone is killed or injured.”

Covington County Sheriff Dennis Meeks said if the push is successful, it would certainly mean more driving under the influence arrests in the county.

“Under the current law, a person weighing 180 pounds can reach the 0.08 BAC limit after two beers,” Meeks said. “Even if the limit is reduced, it shouldn’t matter when operating vehicle. The fact is that if you drink, don’t drive. Period.”

The NTSB report cited research that showed that although impairment begins with the first drink, by 0.05 BAC, most drivers experience a decline in both cognitive and visual functions, which significantly increases the risk of a serious crash. Currently, more than 100 countries on six continents have BAC limits set at 0.05 or lower. The NTSB has asked all 50 states to do the same.

“Alcohol-impaired crashes are not accidents,” Hersman said. “They are crimes. They can – and should – be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will.”

 

The law now:

Congress voted in 2000 to require states to set a 0.08 percent BAL or lose millions of dollars in federal highway funds. Currently, all states use the 0.08 percent standard to define drunk driving for non-commercial drivers ages 21 and older.

 

What would also change:

The NTSB’s 19 recommendations call for stronger laws, swifter enforcement and expanded use of technology.

Among the other findings, investigators said that high-visibility enforcement efforts, such as sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols paired with media campaigns, deter alcohol-impaired driving.

Other recommendations included that:

• police use passive alcohol sensors to help better detect alcohol vapor in the ambient environment;

• states should employ measures to improve interlock compliance for driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenders;

• an intervention known as administrative license suspension, which allows law enforcement authorities to immediately suspend or revoke a driver’s license at the time of a DWI arrest. Officials said it would be more effective if states required offenders to have an ignition interlock on their vehicles before licenses could be fully reinstated; and,

• for repeat offenders, that the NHTSA assist states in maximizing DWI courts’ effectiveness by providing the courts with current best practices.

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