WASHINGTON, May 15, 2013 – Hoping to improve public safety on the roads, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended yesterday that a decreased standard for driving after consuming alcohol should be enacted, making the lower amount “legally drunk.”

Currently, in all states, a blood-alcohol level (BAC) of .08 percent of alcohol found in your blood is the standard to pronounce you intoxicated. The NTSB recommended that amount be reduced to .05 percent, saying it is another step in “Reaching Zero”, a long-term effort to eliminate drunken driving related deaths.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman says that “alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented.”  I agree. In my thirty two years as an attorney, I have represented thousands of victims of drunk drivers. I have never seen one that was “an accident.”

Before you drink alcohol, you must assess if you will later be getting into an automobile and driving. If the answer is you will be driving, you must take steps to arrange for other transportation later, or you must not drink. The act of drunk driving is a choice. One hundred percent of the time when someone chooses to get behind the wheel having previously had alcohol, the choice is the wrong one.

NTSB’s recommendation is absolutely stellar.

According to the NTSB, lowering the rate to 0.05 would save about 500 to 800 lives per year. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that reducing the blood alcohol limit below .08 could save over 7,000 lives a year.

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The Board’s statistics reveal that a 180-pound man will typically reach 0.08 after four drinks over about an hour, and would reach the 0.05 level after two drinks. Similarly, a woman weighing less than 120 pounds would hit .05 after just one drink. These findings come from an online blood alcohol calculator published by the University of Oklahoma.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that even a trace of alcohol, just enough to give a driver a “buzz,” greatly increases the chances that the driver will be involved in an accident causing serious injuries or fatalities.

What is a trace? The study of nearly 1.5 million fatal accidents proved that even .01 percent blood alcohol concentration is enough to increase the odds of a deadly accident. For many adults, that’s less than half a beer.

“Accident severity increases significantly even when the driver is merely ‘buzzed,’” according to the study, published in the journal Addiction. The research, conducted by sociologists David Phillips and Kimberly M. Brewer, was based on federal statistics for fatal automotive accidents from 1994 through 2008.

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“Accidents are 36.6 percent more severe even when alcohol was barely detectable in a driver’s blood,” Phillips said when releasing the study. That begins at .01, which is so low it would be difficult to detect short of a blood test.

Phillips said “buzzed” drivers are more likely to speed, more likely to hit another vehicle, and less likely to be wearing a seat belt.

Among the study’s additional findings:

A “driver’s blood alcohol concentration correlates strongly with travel speed,” even at .01 percent.

The greater the driver’s alcohol concentration, the more likely he or she will be “improperly restrained” by a seat belt.

The greater the need for driver concentration, the more likely the driver will run into another vehicle.

The study’s “bottom line” is that alcohol, in any amount, is unsafe for drivers. Most people assume they can get away with a sip or two of wine or beer, or even hard liquor. This study strongly suggests they are wrong.

Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down the functions of your central nervous system. After drinking, your normal brain functioning is delayed. Alcohol affects your information-processing skills (cognitive skills), and your hand-eye coordination (psychomotor skills).

Most people begin to feel the effects of alcohol when their BAC ranges between .03 and .059. At this point, the drinker feels mild euphoria, relaxation, and talkativeness, but he or she suffers from impaired alertness, judgment, coordination, and concentration.

When your blood alcohol content reaches between .03 and .059, your brain’s ability to handle tasks required for safe driving becomes impaired and more severely hindered. Your brain’s ability to control eye movements and process information is decreased. This means it takes more time to read signs or respond to traffic signals or other drivers. Steering is harder as is your ability to stay in the proper lane.

Concentrating on multiple tasks at a time is harder. For example, you may be able to stay within the lane but forget to monitor your speed.

The focus of the NTSB recommendation is prevention. There are other reduce- drunk-driving solutions, or partial solutions, that assist in reaching that goal. Tougher laws, tougher law enforcement, stronger advocacy, education and technology are a few of the solutions “tools” that are clearly desirable. Medical treatment, counseling, supervision, ignition interlock devices, vehicle confiscation or incarceration are more “tools” being used and they should continue being used.

The NTSB last December asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the auto industry to increase their research into technology such that cars could detect whether a driver has an elevated BAC level without the driver breathing into a tube or taking any other action. Drivers with elevated levels would be unable to start their cars.

There are many arguments that will attempt negate or soften NTSB’s recommendation. Some will point out that most drunk driving arrests occur mostly when people have a BAC of .12 or higher. Some will talk about the statistics and challenge them as not representative or accurate. Some will complain that reducing the BAC limit will simply serve to harass every-day folks who simply want to enjoy a drink now and then. Some will talk about a conspiracy orchestrated by the government to collect more of our money, as DWI arrests require paying fines that local and state governments receive.

As the expression goes, “at the end of the day,” the issue is prevention. If reducing the BAC limit causes one less accident, or saves one more life, it is a stellar idea.

Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics. Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, in Washington, D.C., on the Andy Parks show, the featured legal analyst for America’s Radio News Network, heard in 165 markets nationwide, and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.

His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.

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