With roadway deaths on the rise for the first time in several years, federal safety officials are calling for a substantial drop in the blood-alcohol level used to determine drunk drivers.
But despite the national epidemic of drunk driving deaths and widespread public awareness of the issue, some interest groups and lawmakers are vigorously fighting the proposed changes, which have no legal weight until acted on by Congress or individual states. Some in the beverage industry say the recommended federal reforms are “ludicrous” because stricter blood-alcohol limits could cut down on their business.
States should lower the definition of drunken driving to a blood-alcohol reading of no more than .05 percent, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended Tuesdayy, saying the U.S. is too tolerant of impairment behind the wheel.
The safety board at a hearing in Washington said the U.S. is behind other countries, including most of Europe, in having a threshold for drunken driving of .08 in all 50 U.S. states.
The risk of a crash at a .05 reading is half what it is at .08, the board said.
“It’s frustrating that with the education and advocacy, with laws and enforcement and with the many processes set up to deal with the problem of drinking and driving, that we are still seeing so many lives lost,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said at the hearing.
About one-third of U.S. traffic deaths are related to alcohol, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.
Though any federal agency’s recommendations on tightening drunk-driving standards are not binding and don’t represent any official policy, groups with an interest in preserving the current national blood-alcohol law have launched an aggressive campaign to oppose any sweeping changes.