sobriety checkpointThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recently recommended that all state legislatures lower the blood alcohol content (BAC) used to determine drunk driving from .08 to .05.

The NTSB says driving while under the influence of alcohol is still a major problem in the United State even after all 50 states lowered their BAC to .08.

“Most Americans think that we’ve solved the problem of impaired driving, but in fact, it’s still a national epidemic,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said. “On average, every hour one person is killed and 20 more are injured.”

Each year in the United States, nearly 10,000 people are killed in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers and more than 173,000 are injured, with 27,000 suffer incapacitating injuries. Since the mid-1990s, even as total highway fatalities have fallen, the proportion of deaths from accidents involving an alcohol-impaired driver has remained constant at around 30 percent. In the last 30 years, nearly 440,000 people have died in alcohol related crashes.

The NTSB cited research  that 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. Currently, over 100 countries on six continents have BAC limits set at 0.05 or lower.

“The research clearly shows that drivers with a BAC above 0.05 are impaired and at a significantly greater risk of being involved in a crash where someone is killed or injured,” said Hersman.

Personally, I don’t have strong opinion one way or another on the issue.  I believe those who drink alcoholic beverages should exercise caution in how much they consume before getting behind the wheel.  If lowering the BAC level will save lives I would not be opposed to the Iowa Legislature doing that.

There are a couple things to consider however.  The NTSB says they have “released a bold set of targeted interventions to put the country on a course to eliminate alcohol-impaired driving crashes.”  We will never eliminate alcohol-impaired driving crashes.  Regardless of changes you make to the law there will be people who will break it.  Granted many will out of obedience to the law and fear of repercussions that will occur if cited with driving under the influence, but you will never totally eliminate the problem.

The second point is this – if the Iowa Legislature or another state legislature after hearing from their constituents and experts on all sides of the issue want to lower the BAC then fine.  State legislatures must be able to determine this for themselves without any pressure from the Federal Government.  Congress has a history of compelling states to comply by threatening to withhold Federal transportation dollars like they did when states were forced to reduce their speed limits to 55 mph back in 1973.  Worse yet would be the Obama Administration taking up some action of their own through department regulations and/or executive orders because they’ve demonstrated a propensity to do that when Congress won’t do what they want.

That would the type of federal overreach that I and many others are tired of.

Photo credit: Sean M. Flynn via Flickr (CC-By-NC-SA 2.0)

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