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NTSB: U.S. Should Expand Definition of Drunk Driving

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Blood Alcohol Chart from wikipedia

Blood Alcohol Chart from Wikipedia.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is calling for states to lower the definition of drunk driving to a blood-alcohol reading of no more than .05%, writes Angela Greiling Keane for Bloomberg. At a Washington, D.C., hearing on Tuesday, the board pointed out that by having a current drunk driving threshold of .08 in all 50 U.S. states, the U.S. is behind other countries, including most of Europe, Keane writes. The .08 U.S. standard was established a decade ago, writes Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times.

According to the board, the risk of a car accident at a .05 reading is half of what it is at .08, Keane writes. She notes that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that about one-third of all U.S. highway fatalities are related to alcohol.

However, Wald writes:

People with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent are 38 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than those who have not been drinking, according to government statistics. People with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent are 169 percent more likely.

The standard in most of the industrialized world is 0.05 percent. All 50 states and the District of Columbia switched to 0.08 percent after President Bill Clinton signed a law in 2000 that withheld highway construction money from states that did not agree to that standard.

The NTSB is an advisory board, with no authority to make laws or regulations. Each state sets its own driving laws, including the definition of drunk driving, but Congress has pushed for states to follow the board’s recommendations in the past, by tying their adoption to federal highway funds, Keane writes.

Colorado and New York are the only states that have a category of milder penalties for people with blood-alcohol levels between .05 and .08%, Wald writes.

The American Beverage Institute, an alcoholic beverage and restaurant industry group, opposes the board’s recommendations, saying the board would be better off focusing on highly intoxicated drivers and repeat offenders, Keane writes.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) also opposes the change, but for different reasons. Keane quotes J.T. Griffin, MADD’s senior vice president of public policy, as saying, “We feel our approach has the opportunity to save more lives.”

MADD supports technology that prevents cars from starting when a driver is drunk. The organization would like states to require ignition interlocks for first-time drunken driving offenders, plus using sobriety checkpoints.

Keane writes:

The safety board has previously recommended accelerating development of technology installed in vehicles that can passively detect alcohol through touch on the steering wheel or through breath inside a vehicle.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include General Motors Co. (GM) and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), is working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop the technology, which the NTSB has said should be offered as an option in cars.

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