An .05 Alcohol Limit for Driving – Is It Going Too Far?

alcohol-level-drunk-driving-05Once a law is accepted, we forget how much resistance had to be overcome to get there. When Social Security was first proposed, it met with fierce opposition. It was called “unjust” and a “cruel hoax.” When Congress ordered states to lower their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit that defines of intoxication to.08, some states held out. Various reasons were given, the most common being that states should set their own limits and a lower limit punishes innocent social drinkers by criminalizing their behavior.

One still hears grumbles about .08 on occasion, but it’s pretty widely accepted. However, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently called for the limit to be lowered to 05.

There are good arguments to be made for the lower limit, but it’s no likely that states will adopt it anytime soon. Few legislatures are even bothering to debate it, for a number of reasons.

  • Congress is not holding an axe to state’s highway budgets.  In 2003 Congress withheld highway funds from any state that refused to lower their limits. Without that incentive, it’s a tough sell. Anthony Foxx, the Secretary of Transportation, said that the states need to take the lead if they want lower limits.
  • The nation’s foremost anti-drunk driving advocate, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), is not behind the change.

That second one frustrates supporters of the lower limit, but MADD has a point. It’s not that the organization doesn’t believe that a lower limit will help prevent alcohol-related road deaths and injuries – it will and they know it. But MADD has made other measures a priority. In particular, they are working towards having every state require ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Moreover, an ignition interlock effectively lowers the allowable limit for a drunk driving offender to almost zero.

If MADD did not feel there was a better, more practical and more workable solution to the problem of drunk driving, they would be behind the .05 limit. Many other countries use that, and even lower limits. However, chasing an .05 limit seems counterproductive when the use of ignition interlocks are already on the rise and are doing their job. At present, 25 states require ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses, and more states are debating all-offender laws. As long as states are pursuing the goal of ending impaired driving, it might be best to let them do it in a way that has been tried and proven.

What the MADD Report on Ignition Interlocks Really Tells Us


Read the MADD
Report on Ignition Interlocks

For 36 years Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been creating, researching, and promoting ways to end drunk driving. Ignition interlocks – devices breathalyzer devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – are a cornerstone of their campaign. Recently MADD released a report on the effects that ignition interlock devices have had on drunk driving in all 50 U.S. states.

That report tells us a lot we expected. Much is being made of the most impressive statistic: that interlocks have prevented impaired drivers from starting their vehicles 1.77 million times since states first adopted them in 1999.

Think of it: 1.77 million people, drunk or impaired, getting behind the wheel. How many of those road trips would end in disaster?

In an introduction to the report on its website, MADD makes these points:

  • Drunk driving offenders MUST be monitored before receiving unrestricted driving privileges.
  • Simply trusting an offender to honor a license suspension does NOT protect the public.
  • Ignition interlocks do what NO OTHER alcohol program can — block drunk drivers from starting their vehicles and using them as deadly weapons.

The third point of the MADD report on ignition interlocks addresses 24/7 programs, rehab, counseling, and other measures designed to help offenders deal with alcohol problems. Such programs are important, because alcohol abuse and dependency are serious issues that harm our society in many ways. But MADD is right in insisting that these programs do not directly prevent an impaired driver from getting behind the wheel on a given day and putting lives at risk. Only an ignition interlock can do that.

Compliance-Based Removal: A Key to Success

Most of the publicity about the MADD report has so far concentrated on the 1.77 million prevention statistic. And that’s understandable. It’s an impressive number, which is why it’s on the title page of the report. But on page 8 of the report is something ultimately more useful: MADD’s model for an ideal all-offender ignition interlock law.

We’ll get into the details in another post, but one of the best recommendations in the report is one that only half of U.S. states follow: compliance-based removal.

Every time an interlock user attempts to stat or use an interlock, that data is recorded. This information can be used to determine whether an offender will continue to drive sober after the device is removed.  Twenty-five states have a compliance-based removal component that includes extending time on an interlock for attempts to drink and drive.

If states are serious about combatting drunk driving, they should require a period of no failed tests or attempts to circumvent the device before it is removed.

There is much more to the MADD report on ignition interlocks, and we’ll be examining its recommendations in subsequent posts. In the meantime, we urge everyone who is interested in road safety to read the report and then take the next step: contact legislators and let them know that strong ignition interlock laws are needed to make the roads and streets safer for everyone.

Another Electronic Device to Prevent Drunk Driving?

A man in Georgia has invented a device which he says will prevent drunk driving.

We all know that such a device already exists: it’s called the ignition interlock, and it works by taking a breath sample and preventing a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Demba Gadiaga of Cumming, Georgia has a different idea. Noticing that drivers always slow down and behave themselves on the road when they see a police car, Gadiaga set about finding a way to remind people that the police are out there. He devised a device that you plug into your car’s USB port which flashes red and blue – get it? – for 15 seconds when you start the car.

The gadget is called Not Tonight. The idea is that the lights will remind drivers that police cars are ready to catch you if you drink and drive.

not-tonight-device-to-prevent-drunk-drivingMr. Gadiaga is to be applauded for his ingenuity and dedication to the cause of safer roads. Perhaps his device, left in the vehicle to flash every time it starts, does indeed prod one’s subconscious mind into passing up those drinks and staying sober behind the wheel.

Is the device a replacement for an ignition interlock, which courts order for DUI convictions? That would be a stretch. An ignition interlock is still the only device which actively prevents a drunk driver from taking his or her vehicle on the road. As such, it’s proven to reduce DUI recidivism and lower the rates of alcohol-related collisions, injuries and deaths.

But any reminder not to drink and drive is a good thing. We hope Not Tonight helps those who would otherwise be impaired drivers see the light.

DUI Deaths Drop Below 10,000 – But Does It Mean Anything At All?

dui-deaths-fall-below-10000The news of late has been trumpeting a happy statistic: alcohol-related road fatalities have dropped below 10,000, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Lives are being saved, and perhaps people are getting the message that drunk driving is a foolish decision that no one should ever make.

But is that what the number tells us? First, let’s remember that we’ve been here before: drunk driving deaths were below 10,000 in 2011. So we haven’t really made much of a dent in the last three years. All in all, the number of fatalities has been holding pretty steady since 2010.


Source: NHTSA Alcohol-Impaired Driving 2014

Which is not to say that progress hasn’t been impressive in the long run. There was a steep decline in alcohol-related road deaths between 2005 and 2010, resulting in 3,000 lives saved. And if you go further back, a picture emerges of how grim things were in the old days.

In 1995, NHTSA published a study comparing DUI deaths in that year with early research in 1982. Its findings:

  • Alcohol-related traffic deaths in 1982 – 25,165
  • Alcohol-related traffic deaths in 1995 – 17,274

What caused that astonishing 32 percent drop in deaths? It was many factors, none of them accidental:

  • MADD began lobbying for stronger anti-drunk driving legislation
  • Through the Ad Council and other agencies, the government began advertising and educating people about drinking and driving
  • Seat belts and other vehicle safety measures made death a less likely outcome in any vehicle crash

That decline in DUI deaths signified a public safety triumph. By comparison, in the last few years the efforts appear to have stalled. The drop below 10,000 is a small, symbolic one. Why is that?

One theory might be that all of the casual drinkers who can be educated about drunk driving have been. All that’s left are the hard-core drinkers who cannot be swayed by PSAs nor deterred by punishments.

That’s not the right answer, though: it’s an excuse. We know that because the latest NHTSA report on alcohol-impaired driving tracks the previous driving records of drivers involved in fatal crashes.

  • Just 7% have previous DWIs
  • Just 25% have previous suspensions

What we learn from this is that drivers involved in most fatal crashes are not long-time hard-core drinkers. Then tend to be young – the highest percentage is in the 21-to-24-year-old group – and presumably they can be reached with a message that can save their lives.

The live-saving message to drinkers: plan your night out, find a designated driver, don’t let friends drive drunk.

The message to legislators: automatic suspensions, ignition interlocks for all DUI offenses (including first offenses), education and and sobriety courts all make a difference.

The dip below 10,000 DUI deaths certainly matters. 143 people lived  who would have died just a year before – 143 people with families, futures and dreams that are still alive.

But those 9967 people also had things to live for. Which is why our work isn’t done.

With a Mardi Gras DUI, Fat Tuesday Could Weigh You Down for Years

mardi-gras-drinking-drivingTomorrow is Mardi Gras, a renowned celebration observed all over the world. In the US, New Orleans is the city that pulls out all the stops, though one finds parades and parties from Tacoma to Kennebunkport. What unites all these events is the spirit of abandonment that is the traditional prelude to the penitential season of Lent. Costumes, music, and copious quantities of alcohol are always on the scene.

Please remember that there will be police patrols on the scene as well, looking for drunk drivers. And while the “anything goes” spirit of Mardi Gras is famous, drunk driving is not part of that – you will be arrested and booked just the same as any other day of the year.

In fact, in Louisiana Mardi Gras is the deadliest time of the year on the  state’s highways, with the five-day holiday period accounting for about 600 crashes in which people are injured or killed. As a result, legions of police will be on the roads to catch anyone who appears to be driving while impaired.

But it won’t just be New Orleans. Police all over the country are aware that tomorrow is viewed as an excuse to go wild, and they will be making sure that does not include behavior on the roads.

The consequences of a DUI will last a long time after the hangover fades: fines to pay, possible jail terms, a police record, employment problems, community service, an ignition interlock on your vehicle, and more.

If you agree that handcuffs should not be part of your Mardi Gras costume, follow these tips

  • Don’t overdo the drinking. It’s possible to drunk but not get falling-down drunk. That way, you enjoy more and you’re not a burden to others.
  • Don’t drive. Get a ride to and from the celebrations, or choose (or be) a designated driver.
  • Don’t let friends drive if they’ve had too much to drink.

Apart from that, anything goes!

LifeSafer Predicts the Losers of Super Bowl 50

super-bowl-50-drunk-drivingIf you’ve made a friendly wager on the outcome of this Sunday’s game, or if you’ve got strong ties to one of the teams, you’ve got a stake in the winner. If the bookies are right, the Panthers are set to best the Broncos at Super Bowl 50.

Either way, we can tell who the real losers will be this Super Bowl Sunday.

  • The fan who drinks all through the game, then heads for home in a car.
  • The passengers who rides with that fan.
  • The host who sees a drunk guest leaving the party, and doesn’t intervene.
  • Anyone on the road who’s near that drunken fan.

This isn’t idle speculation. In 2013 the Auto Club of Southern California studied drinking and driving on Super Bowl Sunday, and found that the risk of a DUI crash is about 75 percent greater the day of the event than on other Sundays.

The solution? If you’re a guest at a Super Bowl 50 gathering, do this:

  • Designate a driver, or make plans to stay long enough to sober up (it might be quite a long time – plan on an alcohol-free dinner)
  • If you don’t have a DD, call a taxi or a friend.

If you’re hosting a Super Bowl Party:

  • Encourage guests to have a plan to drink OR drive.
  • Stop serving alcohol and start coffee and dessert after halftime.
  • Serve food (protein and carbs) to slow alcohol’s effect
  • Make non-alcoholic drinks available.
  • Keep a taxi, rideshare or sober ride service phone number handy.

And of course, if you see an impaired driver on the road, call 911 from a safe place and report the incident.

That’s it. We can tell the Patriots or Broncos how to win Super Bowl 50. But we offer advice on how not to be a big loser on that day.

See you at the game.

NY DUI Arrestee Has 23 Suspensions – Need Any More Proof That They Don’t Work?

23-license-suspensions-in-nyHave you any idea how persistent you need to be to get your driver’s license suspended 23 times? Yet it did happen, to a man in Monroe County, New York.  39-year-old Khalid Wilson was arrested for speeding and then refusing a breath test. A check of his record showed a total of 23 suspensions on his license. He’s now awaiting trial.

The point is not to scold Mr. Wilson, who has plenty of scolding ahead of him in any case. The point is to highlight the uselessness of one of the most common punishments for drunk driving: license suspension.

Whenever we hear of a drunk driver who has caused trouble, we also hear shouts of, “get rid of his license,” or “he should be off the roads.”

missThe problem is this: statistics show that license suspensions don’t work for any but the mildest of offenders. An estimated 50 to 75 percent of offenders with suspended or revoked licenses will drive anyway. They ignore the suspension. Worse, if they have an alcohol problem, then they will be driving impaired, unlicensed, uninsured.

License suspension, then, does not serve society, and it doesn’t serve the offenders who need counseling and treatment to overcome their dependence on alcohol.

missThe answer is a well-administered ignition interlock program. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

A well-designed program ensures that the device is installed on the vehicle (this requires some vigilance, as compliance is where an interlock program can be tripped up). Once it’s installed, the data from the device (including failed tests) is monitored, and if there is a problem, steps are taken to ensure that the offender is getting proper treatment.  A certain number of failed tests should result in an extended interlock period, and the device should not be removed until a certain period (in some places it’s four months) passes with no failed tests.

Today’s lesson: suspensions don’t work for DUI. Interlocks do. Interlocks plus supervision is the key to lowering recidivism rates.

Taking away a license might seem a more logical and intuitive way to deal with DUI offenders, but there are reasons why it’s not. Monroe County just saw 23 of them.

Helen Mirren Tells Drunk Drivers a Thing or Two

Your Hump-day Recess: A Few Choice Words on Drunk Driving from Helen Mirren

There are controversial topics, and topics we all agree on. Among the latter are the idea that drunk driving is stupid beyond belief, and the fact that Helen Mirren is a delight to watch and listen to. This brilliant actress, who has played everyone from the Queen to a retired assassin, will be telling Super Bowl fans exactly what she thinks of drunk drivers in a Budweiser-sponsored ad.

The message is familiar, but having Helen Mirren deliver it makes all the difference. Over many years Hollywood has conditioned Americans to hear upper-class British accents as the voice of authority. When directors need a supreme villain, a brooding genius, or anyone whose voice and bearing carries weight, there’s a good chance that voice and bearing will be from somewhere in Great Britain.

We can’t think of a better use of Dame Helen’s voice. So don’t be a pillock – listen to her!

Incidentally, Budweiser is donating one dollar to safe ride programs every time someone tweets #giveadamn – up to a million dollars – so please do your part.

Your Hump Day Recess: Every Wednesday LifeSafer brings you something a little different, related to the worlds of road safety, to ease your progress over Hump Day and through the week.
Previous Hump Days: a German Ignition Interlock spoof from 1960, our Top 10 Worst Crash Tests, a different kind of Anti-DUI message, Budweiser’s dogged anti-DUI campaign, How Not to Dodge a Parking Ticket, the world’s worst traffic jams, a dramatic buzzed driving PSA , an offbeat ad from New ZealandVince and Larry, our favorite crash test dummies, some excellent Soviet anti-drunk-driving posters. a lesson on how buzzed driving can ruin your love life, South Australia to Drunk Drivers: Grow Up!, a woman calls 911 to report herself for DUI, Felix the Cat and Drunk Driving,  DUIs who crash vintage cars – (ouch!), Woman Unwittingly Creates Self-Driving Car, A Brilliant PSA from Australia, a Road Safety Message in a Vodka Bottle, a PSA about binge drinking that is decidedly “meh,” Drunk Driver Crashes $4 Million Car, Drunk Driving in 1910, a Superb New Think! PSA from the UK,and Drunk Driving in 1955: New Breath Test Technology Will Save the Day! 

Who are the NTSB, and Why Do They Want to Lower our Driving Alcohol Limit?

lower-alcohol-limit-to-05Every year the National Transportation Safety Board puts out its wish list. Called the “Most Wanted” list, it lays out the changes that the agency says will save lives by making transportation safer.

There are recommendations for rail, air, and water transport. But as the report notes, 90 percent of transportation fatalities happen on our nation’s roads. And that is why the NTSB’s recommendations for ending substance impairment in transportation are vital reading.

Among the most controversial proposals is to lower the permissible blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level for driving:

“When it comes to alcohol use, we know that impairment begins before a person’s BAC reaches 0.08 percent, the current legal limit in the United States. In fact, by the time it reaches that level, the risk of a fatal crash has more than doubled. That is why states should lower BAC levels to 0.05 — or even lower.”

Four drinks will get the average 160-pound male to .08. For a 120-pound woman, it can be just two drinks.

In order to make sense of the NTSB’s statement, some questions need to be answered.

Why is the Current Alcohol Limit .08?

When breathalyzers first came into use in this country around 60 years ago, a BAC of .15 was used as the standard. At that level about a half pint of Jim Beam is in your blood. Vomiting, drowsiness, loss of visual and auditory perception are all present at this level. Thus, the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the states incentive to bring that level down to .08. At that level, one’s coordination is impaired, and one’s driving skills are off.

Is .05 Too Low?

Some critics of the proposal think that .05 is impossibly puritanical. At that level , one’s judgment and attention are lessened, and controlling a vehicle is more difficult. It’s not as bad as .08, but there’s no doubt that if an unexpected situation arose, a driver with a .05 BAC would have a harder time reacting to it.

In other countries, .05 and even lower limits are common. Most European countries are .05, and a few, including Sweden and Luxembourg, use a limit of .02. So despite the outcries of the liquor and restaurant lobbies, and those who feel  that their right to move about freely after a party is being restricted, life does go on even when a higher BAC limit is imposed on motorists. In fact drivers in Paris, Berlin, Monte Carlo, and Amsterdam manage to keep their cities entertaining despite lower alcohol limits.

Just Who Are the NTSB?

ntsbThat was the question in the title, and it’s only fair we answer it. The NTSB was created in 1967 with the mission of making all transportation in the US safer. It exists outside of and independent of the Department of Transportation, so that it can investigate and report impartially about the country’s surface, air or water transport systems.

It’s worth noting that the NTSB can’t change laws – it can only make recommendations. However, those recommendations are made in good faith, and are worth heeding. Which means that as far as blood alcohol goes, it might be time to take it down a notch.

After 10 DUIs, Texas Imposes the Ultimate Penalty – Life Imprisonment

Texas has had enough of Ivy Ray Eberhardt. Last April the 62-year-old man was hauled in for the twelfth time for drinking and driving. He had nine convictions, and no doubt his tenth was not a difficult one for the prosecution. Eberhardt’s blood alcohol level was .30, almost four times the legal limit for intoxication, an amount that would have made him unable to keep any kind of control of his vehicle. In fact, at that level, the symptoms are usually unconsciousness, severely depressed reflexes, difficulty of respiration – even subnormal body temperature. With that much booze in your system you shouldn’t be standing up, much less driving.

life-imprisonment-for-duiThe judge agreed. Last week he sentenced Eberhardt to life imprisonment.

Eberhardt is about the toughest example of a DUI recidivist one could imagine. He spent 300 days in a Colorado prison, and has been fined, jailed, put on probation, and has undergone counseling. He even cut off an ankle monitor so he could make a jaunt to Colorado.

And with all that, at this last arrest there were four whiskey bottles in his vehicle – three of them empty.

Still – life in prison? That’s usually a punishment reserved for murderers and others who have inflicted terrible pain and injury on others. Eberhardt does not have that kind of track record.

But one thing was clear to the judge – the defendant was a road disaster waiting to happen. You can’t ply the roads year after year without endangering yourself and others. By some miracle, Eberhardt hasn’t killed anyone yet, but he is still too dangerous to allow on the roads. And so far nothing short of life imprisonment has done the trick.

Imprisonment should be a last resort for drunk driving offenses: it is expensive for the state, and calamitous for the offender. While it keeps an impaired driver off the roads, it also tends to bring about stigma and financial hardship for families.

Nevertheless, this is probably one of those cases where nothing else could be done.

Texas has recently upped its anti-drunk driving game, having become the 25th state in the union to require ignition interlocks for all DUI offenses. The state is eager to relinquish its distinction as a leader in drunk driving fatalities. A permanent ignition interlock might be another way to go, but few can argue that Eberhardt needs to be stopped right now.