Feds Push to Lower Blood-Alcohol Limit for Drivers

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The federal National Transportation Safety Board is pushing to lower blood-alcohol limits, citing other countries where the move has saved lives.

It would be hard to find anyone who would defend the idea that people should be allowed to drive impaired. But some people are resisting a recommendation from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to lower the legal blood-alcohol content limit from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.

People who argue for stricter impaired driving laws say lowering the BAC from 0.15 percent in the 1970s to .10 later and eventually down to the present 0.08 percent in all states has saved thousands of lives.

A Big Reduction

An article exploring the issue on Freakonomics.com states:

“This change has been accompanied by a precipitous drop in accidents involving alcohol: In 1982 there were 1.64 alcohol-related road fatalities per 100 million miles driven, and in 2008 there were only 0.40.

“Granted, we can’t attribute all or even most of this to reduced BAC limits. Lots of different anti-drunk driving measures were taken during that time …What happened when states went down to .08? Approximately 20 scholarly analyses have found strong evidence lives were saved. The median study found that, thanks to the .08 limit, fatal crashes involving alcohol dropped by about 7 percent. For reference, we had about 12,000 fatalities from crashes involving alcohol in 2008, so this very roughly implies an annual savings of well over 800 lives.”

Drunken and drugged driving is a scourge on California and U.S. roads. From 2003 to 2012, about 10,000 people just in California lost their lives to drunken drivers.

1.1 million arrests

Police arrested about 1.1 million people for impaired driving in the United States in 2014. Sounds like a lot, right? But it’s still less than 1 percent of the estimated 121 million drunken or drugged driving episodes among U.S. resident adults each year.

Nearly 10,000 people were killed by impaired drivers in 2014—about 31 percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States that year.

In addition, many thousands of people are injured every year in accidents caused by people driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In California and in fact in all U.S. states, it is illegal to get behind the wheel if your blood-alcohol level is 0.08 percent or above. Drivers under 21 may not drive with any alcohol in their system at all. The Centers for Disease Control website says these limits on alcohol have saved tens of thousands of lives.

A Serious Risk

People who drive with a BAC of 0.06 or 0.07 percent may be at serious risk of accidents, even if they are not liable to be charged with drunken driving.

NTSB Vice Chairwoman Bella Dinh-Zarr says lowering the BAC to 0.05 would prevent accidents and save lives. She cites studies from other countries to back up her claim, according to CNN. At least 52 countries have cut the BAC to 0.05.

Ms. Dinh-Zarr told CNN crash risks for people with BACs between 0.05 and 0.08 are three times greater than for those with no alcohol in their system.

Freakonomics, whose authors study statistics and actuarial tables, backs up Ms. Dinh-Zarr. The site says the problem is even worse than she indicates:

“At least 100 studies show that driving with a BAC below our current limit of .08 — but above above .05 — is quite dangerous (see this review from H. Moskowitz and D. Fiorentino). For example, P.L. Zador, S.A. Krawchuk and R.B. Voas found that drivers with a BAC between .05 and .07 have 4 to 10 times the risk of being in a fatal crash compared to sober drivers.”

Automobile Breathalyzers

The advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Drivers hasn’t issued a statement on lowering the BAC to 0.05 percent. CNN says the group’s focus has been on getting breath interlock devices in automobiles. In some states, convicted drunken drivers are required to breathe into these devices, and if they have been drinking their car won’t start.

“The advocacy group credits this technology with drastically reducing repeat drunken driving offenses and saving lives, and notes that (unlike lowering legal blood alcohol levels) it’s got widespread support,” CNN says.

Most DUI Fatalities are Over 0.15%

The American Beverage Institute has a fact sheet (PDF here) that says more than 70 percent of drunken driving fatalities are caused by people with a BAC of more than 0.15 percent.

“The average BAC of a drunk driver involved in a fatal crash is .16 percent—twice the current legal limit. A .05 limit targets social drinkers instead of the hardcore drunk drivers who cause the vast majority of alcohol-related traffic fatalities,” the fact sheet states.

If you’re Injured

If you are injured in a car accident caused by another person who was drinking but was not over the legal limit, you may still be able to use this fact against him. If he was over the limit and was convicted, your case is even stronger.

An attorney can help you determine whether you should bring a lawsuit if you believe the other driver was impaired but was not over the limit. Krasney Law attorneys of Los Angeles and SoCal are experienced in bringing auto accident lawsuits. If the other person was drinking but was under the limit and we present this evidence to a jury, it may work in your favor.

If you do get in a car accident, take all the steps that Krasney Law: Personal Injury Specialists laid out in this blog.

Then, talk only to your lawyer, the police and your own insurance company about the accident. If another driver’s insurance company calls you, refer them to your lawyer or your own insurance company.

Don’t Settle too Quickly

Be wary of settling a case too quickly, before the full extent of your injuries is known—which can be months in the future. When you are certain you have full knowledge of all your losses and reach a settlement, let an attorney read the documents first before signing.

If you or anyone else in the accident is injured, the best course is to contact your Los Angeles and SoCal auto-accident attorneys at Krasney Law, (909) 380-7200. We will charge you nothing for an initial consultation, and we may arrange payment on a contingency basis. That is, we don’t get paid unless you accept a settlement or we go to trial.

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