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Lower D.C. DUI BAC Limits Proposed by NTSB

by | May 17, 2013

The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending lowering the legal blood-alcohol content limit from the current universal U.S. standard of 0.08 percent down to 0.05 percent.

The NTSB cites the relatively unchanging 10,000 annual deaths attributed to impaired drivers throughout the country since the standard was reduced from 0.10 percent down to 0.08 percent during the Clinton administration.

The first of a host of protests our D.C. DUI lawyers would present is: How is arresting people who aren’t very drunk going to reduce the number of DUI fatalities?

We certainly recognize that if society is going to outlaw drunk driving, there is inevitably going to be some cut-off point at which we say, “You’ve had enough” and that limit has to be universal and therefore fair to everyone – even if the substance affects everyone differently. But as it stands right now, even the NTSB concedes that the vast majority of impaired drivers in fatal crashes measure BAC levels that were far over the limit of 0.08 percent. So reducing that limit further to 0.05 percent makes little sense if the end goal is reduce impaired driving injuries and fatalities.

What’s more, the last reduction didn’t have a whole lot of impact either. Those 10,000 annual DUI fatalities we record every year? That’s remained about the same since 1995. The percentage of alcohol-related highway fatalities has remained in the 30 to 32 percent range every single year since then – despite the reduction from 0.10 to 0.08 percent.

So if reducing the limit had little effect before, how can we expect to produce any real results by halving it at this point?

The answer, clearly, is that it won’t. The NTSB may full well know this. As the measure is supported by a host of law enforcement groups, we can’t help but wonder what the true motivation is.

Here’s what the real outcome will be: More people with criminal records, paying huge fines, having their work and family lives disrupted – in some cases irreparably – all while benefiting the bottom line of municipalities and the court system and simultaneously having little to no effect on the loss of lives due to impaired driving.

What you’re going to see if a measure like this passes is a massive number of arrests for people who did nothing more than enjoy a glass of wine or two with dinner before heading home. These people aren’t actually drunk, but will be considered so under the law. They were not at huge risk themselves, other passengers or other motorists, and yet they will be arrested, labeled, fined, forced to spend time in jail, serve community service and possibly have an ignition interlock device installed. This blemish will forever be on their permanent record.

And for what?

The NTSB argues that by reducing the BAC limit, the drinking behavior of all drivers will be mitigated. That is, those who would be more likely to consume even more alcohol – those who would otherwise have a BAC much higher than 0.08 – would drink less.

Not only is this theory untested and unproven, it also requires that we arrest more than a few innocents in order to target the drinking habits of those who imbibe heavily. But this also overlooks a big part of the reason that some people drink heavily: They have a problem. They are addicted.

Anyone who has ever been familiar with addiction knows that current laws – among so many other tactics – aren’t enough to get them to reduce their intake. That’s an intense process, and reducing the legal definition of “drunk” isn’t likely to have any impact whatsoever on it.

If the point is simply to ensure that those who are most dangerous are targeted and taken off the road to ensure the safety of others – that’s already happening now. Arresting those who aren’t actually drunk does little to achieve this goal.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC at 202-765-3175.