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National Academy Recommends Lowering Legal Limit to .05

Jan 19th, 2018 OWI National Academy Recommends Lowering Legal Limit to .05

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has issued a report entitled Getting to Zero Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities – A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem (2018).  Reading the report, it appears that the “zero” the Academy is really calling for is zero tolerance, as in no legal limit, making any alcohol level illegal and therefore, ushering in, for all practical purposes, the new alcohol prohibition.

In this report, the Academy recommends the following eight action steps:

  1. Lower legal limit to .05 nationally.  The Academy report indicates that the current .08 is ineffective at “getting to zero” because “an individual’s ability to operate a motor vehicle (including a motorcycle) begins to deteriorate at low levels of BAC, increasing a driver’s risk of being in a crash.”
  2. Much higher alcohol taxes – the Academy recommends “significant increases” in alcohol taxes.
  3. Reduction in alcohol availability – the report effectively recommends that alcohol advertising be illegal.  Specifically to impose content standards and limitations on advertising, and to “promote and fund counter-marketing campaigns.”
  4. Sobriety checkpoints everywhere– the Academy’s report also recommends a checkpoint on every corner; specifically: “states and localities should conduct frequent sobriety checkpoints in conjunction with widespread publicity of these initiatives.”
  5. Four years of an ignition interlock for all DUI offenders – the Academy is a big proponent of BAIID (breath alcohol ignition interlock devices).  Specifically, they are calling for BAIIDs “for all offenders with a BAC above the limit set by state law.”  They claim to have evidence that shows the need for a necessary minimum BAIID monitoring period of two years for a first DUI offense and four years for a second DUI offense.
  6. More DWI courts – also known as sobriety courts or adult treatment courts.  The Academy is calling for an increase in their use and availability.  Also, everyone needs to get evaluated for an alcohol use disorder and treatment strategies should be employed for binge drinking.
  7. More alternative transportation – Relative to this issue, the Academy is once again calling for government action to support more alternative transportation and to develop and employ policies and programs that make alternative transportation more available and more affordable, especially in rural areas.
  8. Alcohol technologies in every car – And as their coup de gras the Academy is calling for alcohol interdiction technologies in every car; specifically for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make a “Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety” mandatory on all new vehicles.

It’s interesting to note that in Michigan before we had a .08 legal limit in 2003, we had .10 legal limit and before that, a .15 legal limit.  Why did the government consider a bodily alcohol level of .15 to be a “safe” limit for driving back in the 70s, yet today, in order for us to get to zero, we need to have a legal limit of one-third of this original legal limit?

And of course, this leaves other issues that cause accidents, such as drugged driving out of the equation, as well as texting while driving, distracted driving, teenage driving, old age driving, bad weather driving, sleep deprivation driving, speeding, etc., unaddressed. Why are we getting to zero only on alcohol cases, and not all the other types of driving that cause accidents?  Speeding is widely considered to be the single greatest cause of accidents, so why not lower speed limits, and speed governors in every car?  If our goal is really to “get to zero” then we had better make driving illegal.

Also, in many states, including Michigan, we already effectively have something close to zero tolerance.  If a person has a bodily alcohol content of .3, or .04, or .05, etc., and a prosecuting attorney can prove the driver’s ability to operate was impaired or that their ability to operate was substantially lessened, then a jury can find them guilty of the crime of drunk driving.  In fact, a person can be convicted for drunk driving without a test if the appropriate legal standard is met.  If a person can already be convicted of drunk driving in Michigan for a very low or even no alcohol level, then it seems that lowering the legal limit further will have “zero” real impact on driving safety.  The real improvement in reducing alcohol-related accidents will only come through enforcement of existing laws, not the passing of new ones.