How Will States Respond to a Recommended Lowered BAC Limit?

By Mary Ann


The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) Safety Report entitled “Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving” was adopted today.

The report contains several recommendations from the NTSB but the most prominent is the recommendation of a lower Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit, in hopes of cutting down on alcohol related crashes.

The NTSB is recommending that states lower their BAC limits, which currently sit at 0.08, to 0.05 or lower.

The NTSB itself can only make recommendations, not regulations, and the BAC regulations themselves are set at the state level; therefore, they have recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have the authority to provide incentive grants for states implementing this recommendation.

The current 0.08 BAC threshold is nationwide and has been for over a decade, but it was not easy getting there.

In the early 1980’s many states had a BAC threshold of 0.15 and it took 24 years to get all 50 states down to the 0.08 limit. The statistics show the difference:

Alcohol Related Highway Fatalities

Year Fatalities
1980 20,000
2011 9,878

Statistics show that the 0.05 BAC limit has the potential to save 500-800 lives per year.

Although that may be the most drastic of the NTSB’s recommendations in this Safety Report, it is not the only one.

A recommendation that many states have already implemented is the confiscation of the driver’s license at the time of arrest for people who exceed a certain BAC or refuse BAC testing.

The NTSB would also like to see ignition interlock devices being required for all first-time offenders. These devices prompt the driver to blow into them, checking their BAC, before they are able to start their car.

During accident scene responses, sobriety checkpoints and traffic stops, just to name a few, the NTSB recommends the use of passive alcohol sensors that would essentially “sniff” the presence of alcohol at the scene.

Although technology like this could not be used to arrest someone, it would assist in prompting additional field sobriety and BAC testing.

The overall goal of the National Transportation Safety Board is to bring our country’s substance-impaired driving statistics down as close to zero as possible.

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