January 20, 2018
Researchers Push For Lowering Of Drunk Driving Threshold To Reduce Impaired Driving Fatalities

A leading panel of science and health experts is pushing for significant reforms in a new government-commissioned report, which suggests that the drunk driving threshold be lowered in hopes of substantially reducing, or maybe even eliminating, deaths caused by impaired drivers.

In a report published on Wednesday, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) proposed a "comprehensive approach" to deal with the problem of drunk driving and reduce or eliminate fatalities caused by alcohol-impaired driving each year. As noted by Gizmodo, the report proposed several recommendations, including lowering the drunk driving threshold from a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 to a much lower figure of 0.05. Statistics from recent years show that about 10,000 people each year are killed in vehicular accidents involving drunk drivers, with these deaths being "entirely preventable," according to the panel behind the report.

As explained in a report from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, there are multiple variables that determine the amount of alcohol needed to hit the proposed threshold of 0.05. These include a person's body weight, as most women who weigh more than 120 pounds are expected to reach the threshold by the time they have had two drinks, according to research cited on the report. Men who weigh 160 pounds or less may likely hit the 0.05 mark after finishing their second drink, while men who weigh more than 180 pounds may get there after three.

The drunk driving thresholds in all 50 states are currently uniform at a blood-alcohol concentration level of 0.08, wrote the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Utah passed a 2017 law that will lower the threshold to 0.05, just as the panel recommended, but this law will only take effect on December 30.

In a statement quoted by Gizmodo, report author and committee head Steven Teutsch from UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health remarked that reforms are needed because alcohol-impaired driving fatality rates have plateaued in recent years, a sign that existing methods to reduce these figures are no longer working like they used to.
"Our report offers a comprehensive blueprint to reinvigorate commitment and calls for systematic implementation of policies, programs, and systems changes to renew progress and save lives."
Aside from lowering the drunk driving threshold, the NASEM's other proposed reforms include "significant" increases to alcohol taxes, refusing alcohol sales to people under 21 who are already in a state of intoxication, funding anti-alcohol initiatives, and making alcoholic beverages less accessible by reducing the hours and days in which such drinks are available to purchase.

The NASEM's proposed change to the existing drunk driving threshold is just the latest attempt to get tough on guidance that is widely perceived to be too lenient. According to Gizmodo, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been batting for similar changes since 2013, recommending a decrease in the existing threshold from 0.08 blood-alcohol concentration to 0.05 or lower. The publication also cited New York University College of Global Public Health associate professor of public health policy Diane Silver, who said that there is "strong empirical evidence" from the U.S. and other countries suggesting that lower BAC thresholds would make driving safer.

The reforms proposed by the NASEM in its report are expected to come with their share of criticism, particularly from the alcohol and restaurant industries, the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote. Furthermore, the New York Daily News noted that there has already been a statement published by the Distilled Spirits Council, which expressed its support for "a number of the recommendations," but also criticized some of the other potential reforms as being "stale."

"Unfortunately, this report also contains several stale recommendations and represents a missed opportunity to address traffic safety in a more comprehensive manner. Most notably, it ignores the rapidly rising problems of drugged and distracted driving," said the Distilled Spirits Council, without mentioning any exact recommendation or specifically criticizing the proposed lowering of the drunk driving threshold.