Would you drink less before driving if the DUI threshold was lower? A recent report by a scientific panel suggests that most people would. A drop from 0.08 percent to 0.05 would mean ordering at least one less drink in order to remain under the limit.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration commissioned a report on how best to reduce drunk-driving fatalities, and that report was just released. Drawn up by a panel of the nonprofit National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the 489-page report made a number of recommendations based on evidence and previous experience. None was more striking than the proposal to lower the DUI threshold from 0.08 percent to 0.05.
The problem is a serious one. There are approximately 10,000 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the U.S. each year, which accounts for around 28 percent of all traffic deaths.
Think it could never happen? It's already the law in much of Europe and has been for nearly a decade. Worldwide, 100 countries have made the change. Utah's drunk-driving threshold will drop to 0.05 on Dec. 30 of this year. The threshold remains 0.08 percent in Georgia and all other U.S. jurisdictions.
The panel also made a number of other recommendations geared toward reducing alcohol-related fatalities on our roads:
- Cracking down on alcohol sales to people who are already intoxicated or underage
- Significantly increasing alcohol taxes
- Reducing the hours and days when bars, restaurants and stores could sell alcohol
- Undertaking public information campaigns like those done to fight smoking
Some research suggests that if alcohol taxes were doubled, alcohol-related traffic fatalities would drop by 11 percent.
The panel based its recommendations on scientific research along with what was done to make progress in the past. Between the early 80s and the early 2000s, substantial progress was made in reducing traffic fatalities. The blood-alcohol threshold was lowered to 0.08 in every state. The drinking age was raised from 18 to 21. Unfortunately, progress has stagnated since then and has even been reversing.
Would these recommendations affect the most problematic drivers?
The Distilled Spirits Council, the American Beverage Institute and other hospitality industry groups oppose the recommendations. They argue that lowering the blood-alcohol threshold wouldn't deter repeat offenders and those who drive with high blood-alcohol content. The other recommendations, they argue, would have little impact on traffic safety.
According to AAA DUI Justice, around 56 percent of drivers who are legally drunk have blood-alcohol levels at or above 0.15. About a quarter of all drivers arrested or convicted of DUI/DWI are repeat offenders.
The National Academies recommendations are also geared mainly toward reducing alcohol-related crashes. They do little to address DUIs related to drugs. NHTSA says that an estimated one in eight weekend and nighttime drivers will test positive for illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine or heroin. Moreover, one in five will test positive if over-the-counter medicines and prescription drugs are included. Prescription drugs include opioid painkillers.
What would the change mean for me?
It's important to note that your blood-alcohol content depends on a number of factors, including the size of the drinks you consume, your gender and weight, how much you have eaten, whether you are taking certain prescription medications, and others.
Whether Georgia lowers its DUI threshold or not, the best way to avoid a DUI arrest is to avoid drinking and driving. If you should be arrested, however, don't panic and don't give up. Hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights and fight to minimize the serious negative consequences of a DUI conviction.