The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended, among other restrictions,
that the states lower the blood-alcohol level at which a motorist can
be charged with drunk driving from .08 to .05. The Board's goal is
to lower the amount of alcohol-related deaths in the United States, which
has stayed at a consistent level for a number of years.
The Board believes this regulation will decrease the number of deaths because
of the successful decrease of deaths seen in Europe after the imposition
of the .05 blood-alcohol limit for motorists. Europe experienced a decrease
of over half the number of alcohol-related vehicle accidents after the
regulation was imposed.
While the Board is suggesting the lowered blood-alcohol level, whether
the initiative comes to pass will be determined by the states. While it
is a matter of state law, the federal government has the means to ensure
that the limit is lowered if it wishes. When the federal government wanted
a uniform drinking age of 21 years, it withheld highway funding to any
state that would not increase the legal drinking age to 21. As a result,
all states now have a legal drinking age of 21. The federal government,
if it wishes, could impose similar restrictions on funding if it wishes
to create a uniform allowable blood-alcohol level.
Lowering the blood-alcohol level at which a motorist can be charged with
drunk driving might decrease the number of alcohol-related deaths in the
United States. On the other hand, the lowered limit will not deter those
drivers whose blood-alcohol level is much higher than the current limit.
It will be interesting to see whether the federal government takes any
steps to compel states to pass this law. Besides possible backlash from
constituents, state lawmakers will face pressure from the alcohol industry
not to lower the allowable limit, and are unlikely to pass such a regulation
without being compelled by the federal government.