4 Reasons Why the DUI Limit Should be Lowered to .05

Most American drivers know the significance of the number .08. That is the BAC (blood alcohol concentration) level that marks the legal definition of impairment. If you are arrested with a BAC of .08 or above, you face serious charges in almost all states. Punishments can include fines, jail time, and ignition interlocks, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

But is .08 low enough? The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) doesn’t think so. Neither do some researchers.

DUI-MeterIn May of this year the NTSB recommended lowering the legal limit to .05. A press release announced the organization’s position: “research … showed that although impairment begins with the first drink, by 0.05 BAC, most drivers experience a decline in both cognitive and visual functions, which significantly increases the risk of a serious crash.” The statement went on to recommend the .05 limit for all 50 states.

Independent non-profit Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation published a comprehensive review of the literature on BAC limits. The review supports the NTSB’s recommendation.

The PIRE study points out four facts that make a convincing case for lowering the current .08 limit to .05:

  • Virtually all drivers lose some driving ability at a BAC of .05
  • The risk of being involved in a crash increases at that BAC level
  • If there is a crash, the risk of being killed in it also increases if the driver is at the .05 level
  • Lowering the limit has been effective in many countries. In fact, most industrialized nations have DUI laws prohibiting driving with a BAC of .05 or greater

For the record, an average male would need at least four drinks within 2 hours to exceed .05. An average-sized female would need three. Most people would admit that they can’t bring their A-game to driving with that many drinks in them. Yet laws in the US do not keep them from getting behind the wheel.

The NTSB noted other effective anti-drunk-driving strategies as well:

  • High-visibility enforcement efforts, such as sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols
  • Specialized DWI courts in addressing the challenge of repeat offenders

The NTSB also supports ignition interlock legislation, and recommends that states put in place methods to improve compliance with interlock laws.

Will the DUI limit be lowered to .05 anytime soon? Supporters will find it hard going. States have varying approaches to drunk driving, from over-lenient to incredibly tough. Imposing the lower BAC limit on drivers will probably only happen if the federal government takes the lead, as it did with seat belts and other road safety measures in the past.