Area officials weigh in on lower DWI recommendation
Drinking and dricing regulations (Metro Graphics / May 15, 2013)
Area officials would like to hear more discussion and information on such a proposal.
“Recently, the state legislature and the governor signed legislation continuing it at .08 and I support that,” said John Calabrese, the director of Petoskey Department of Public Safety. “The research shows that the .08 limit comports well with law enforcement. I’m not sure if 0.05 is good or bad, but there will be a lot of discussion on this. I’m in support of our legislature’s recent decision.”
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the NTSB recommendation matched a standard that decreased traffic deaths in other countries, by up to one half over the past 10 years.
That is among the points James Linderman, the Emmet County prosecutor, thought of when hearing the announcement.
“Several European countries have zero-tolerance for drinking and driving, but those countries were found to have better mass transit and more population centers,” he stated. “Dropping the limit does make it safer to drive, telling people they could have two drinks, maybe three max before they can no longer be legal to drive. There’s no question that would make our roads safer. The issues could be what kind of pressure the state legislature would face — because there will be opposition against this — and deciding how much interference government will have in people’s lives.”
NTSB officials said it wasn’t their intention to prevent drivers from having a glass of wine or beer with dinner, but they acknowledged that under a threshold as low as .05, the safest thing for people who have only one or two drinks is not to drive at all. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of 80-proof alcohol in most studies.
“Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable,” NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said. “Alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will.”
An alcohol concentration threshold of .05 is likely to meet strong resistance from states, said Jonathan Adkins, an official with the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices.
“It was very difficult to get .08 in most states so lowering it again won’t be popular,” Adkins said. “The focus in the states is on high (blood alcohol content) offenders as well as repeat offenders. We expect industry will also be very vocal about keeping the limit at .08.”
Even safety groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and AAA declined Tuesday to endorse NTSB’s call for a .05 threshold. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sets national safety policy, also stopped short of endorsing the board’s recommendation.
“NHTSA is always interested in reviewing new approaches that could reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road, and will work with any state that chooses to implement a .05 BAC law to gather further information on that approach,” the safety administration said in a statement.
The board recommended NHTSA established “incentive grants” designed to encourage states to adopt the lower threshold.
A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has estimated that 7,082 deaths would have been prevented in 2010 if all drivers on the road had blood alcohol content below .08 percent. New approaches are needed to combat drunken driving, which claims the lives of about a third of the more than 30,000 people killed each year on U.S. highways — a level of carnage that has remained stubbornly consistent for the past decade and a half, the board said.
“It will certainly prevent a certain segment of the population to not drive,” agreed Linderman. “Drinking and driving is a problem, but another problem that is growing is individuals under the influence of controlled substances and driving.”
Studies show more than 4 million people a year in the U.S. drive while intoxicated, but about half of the intoxicated drivers stopped by police escape detection, the NTSB report said.
Dramatic progress was made in the 1980s through the mid-1990s after the minimum drinking age was raised to 21 and the legally-allowable maximum level of drivers’ blood alcohol content was lowered to .08, the report said. Today, drunken driving claims nearly 10,000 lives a year, down from 21,000 in 1982. At that time, alcohol-related fatalities accounted for 48 percent of highway deaths.
The board made its recommendations on the 25th anniversary of one of the nation’s deadliest drunken driving accidents in Carrollton, Ky. A drunk driver drove his pickup on the wrong side of a highway, collided with a bus and killed 27 people, 24 of them children. The children were part of a church youth group on their way home after spending the day at an amusement park.