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.