Is a .05 BAC limit coming?
“A couple of beers” is one of the frequent replies given by people who are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving; the reasoning may be that the police officer will not believe that only one drink could have been the cause of the driving behavior that led to the stop, but admitting to drinking more than just a couple of low alcohol content beverages could be tantamount to an admission of guilt. If the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has its way, however, even saying “two beers” could one day get you into trouble.
For many years Oklahoma and other states have adhered to the .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) as the threshold for a test-based indication of driving under the influence of alcohol. Other countries -- some with notorious reputations for their alcohol consumption, such as Russia and Ireland -- have DUI limits that are lower, such as a BAC of .05. And the NTSB believes that they are on to something worthy of emulation.
According to studies cited by the NTSB, the problem with a .08 BAC limit is that long before a person reaches that level he or she is already running a substantially increased risk of getting into an injury-causing or fatal accident. About one-third of car accidents involve a driver who has some degree of alcohol-related impairment; between the .05 and .08 BAC, for example, a driver becomes up to three times more likely to be involved in an accident than someone who has not consumed any alcohol at all. By the time one reaches the .08 limit, the chance of becoming a participant in a fatal collision doubles according to the studies. However, our experience has been that a majority of the .08 and .09 arrests we see are people pulled over for non-moving violations like no tag light and not for impaired driving indicators like weaving or driving without lights.
So by the NTSB’s logic, it makes sense to start getting drivers off the road in one way or another -- voluntarily, by making arrangements for someone else to drive, or by being pulled over -- before the .08 BAC level is reached. That is but one of the recommendations the NTSB is making to state legislatures in its “End Substance Impairment in Transportation” publication and website. And this year is not the first in which the NTSB has advocated for a .05 (or lower) limit.
But will the .05 proposal gain any traction in the Oklahoma legislature? The short term answer appears to be, “No.” In fact, at present no state in the country appears to be planning a move from the existing .08 threshold, despite the NTSB’s claim that doing so would reduce drunk driving accidents, reduce accident-related injuries and save lives.
It is not that the proposed change is unpopular with drivers. According to one survey, almost two-thirds of those who were asked about a .05 limit expressed support for it. But the change does encounter objections from establishments that serve alcohol, who see it as a dampener on business in return for little real change in driver behavior, and even organizations that you might expect to be full-throated in their support for it, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), seem lukewarm to the idea, preferring instead to use existing ignition interlock devices to thwart potential repeat offenders or to encourage up-and-coming technologies, specifically a new, passive alcohol detection system that automatically checks a driver for alcohol based on breath and skin surface detection.
Although it is unlikely for the time being that Oklahoma will be lowering its DUI BAC threshold below .08, the idea is persistent enough that the NTSB and possibly other governmental and non-governmental organizations will continue to press for the United States to join more than 100 other countries in establishing .05 as the new legal limit.
In the meantime, anyone who does run afoul of the existing .08 limit should as expeditiously as possible seek the assistance experienced DUI defense attorneys like the Hunsucker Legal Group when the “two beers” line fails to persuade.
Hunsucker Legal Group is Oklahoma’s leading DUI Defense firm and can be reached at 405-231-5600 or fill in a free online case evaluation.
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