Lower Legal Limit Recommended by National Transportation Safety Board

Each state sets its own legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit in the United States but, since 2004, the legal limit across the country has been .08. In a list of transportation-related safety improvements released in January, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the legal limit be lowered to .05 or lower. If this recommendation is adopted, it would mean major changes in the lives of many Americans. Learn more about why this change is being proposed, what reactions to it have been, and how it could affect you.

NTSB lower legal limit recommendation

The National Transportation Safety Board’s 2016 “Most Wanted List” of safety improvements in transportation includes ending “substance impairment in transportation”. Part of this recommendation reads:

“When it comes to alcohol use, we know that impairment begins before a person’s BAC reaches 0.08 percent, the current legal limit in the United States. In fact, by the time it reaches that level, the risk of a fatal crash has more than doubled. That is why states should lower BAC levels to 0.05— or even lower.”

Lowering the legal limit to .05 could drastically change the lives of many Americans who choose to drink. This change would mean, for example, that a woman weighing 100 pounds would be at risk for being charged with DWI after just one drink.

Recommendation not received well

This is not the first time that the NTSB has made the recommendation to lower the legal limit to .05. When the same suggestion was made in 2013, it was not well-received. Candace Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told U.S. News at the time that she did not view lowering the legal limit as a practical long-term solution. Additionally, she expressed concern that the new standard would be hard to prosecute if it were adopted because many drivers intoxicated at a level below .08 would pass a standardized field sobriety test. In the same U.S. News article, Stephen Talpins, a former Florida state prosecutor and the co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the National Partnership on Alcohol Misuse and Crime, pointed out that you can still be charged with DWAI if your blood alcohol content is below .08, which means the lower limit would only affect those below .08 who are not visibly impaired. He also told U.S. News that jurors may be unlikely to convict people whose blood alcohol content is so low, which could make the new standard largely ineffective in criminal matters.

Little evidence to support legal limit

Aside from the low levels of support the proposal seems to be gathering, there is little evidence to show that lowering the legal limit to .05 would save lives. Although the NTSB estimates that 1,000 lives per year would be saved by a lower legal limit, more than 70% of all fatal drunk driving incidents are caused by drivers with a blood alcohol content of .16 or higher. This is at least double the legal limit across the country. Additionally, less than one percent of fatal drunk driving incidents are caused by drivers whose blood alcohol content is between .05 and. 08, which is the range the NTSB recommends criminalizing.
Whether or not the NTSB’s recommendation gains traction throughout the country remains to be seen, but it is something to be aware of as the situation progresses.

Who to call

If you have been charged with DWI or DWAI, call Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria. Our DWI attorneys are well-versed in the laws surrounding DWI and will be able to accurately assess your situation in order to provide you the best defense possible.
This article does not purport to give legal advice and is for informational purposes only.