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Federal board may lower drunk driving threshold

Reducing the rates of injurious and fatal drunk driving accidents that occur annually in the United States is a worthy goal. However, federal regulators and state legislators may be soon be approaching this goal in ways that ultimately harms more than helps America’s driving population. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently recommended that states lower their legal blood alcohol limits for offenses related to driving under the influence (DUI).

Currently, drivers may have trace amounts of alcohol in their system while driving legally. Generally, unless a motorist possesses a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher, he or she will not incur DUI penalties if pulled over and breath or blood tested. The logic behind this limit is fairly simple. Drivers should only be punished if they are driving while impaired and therefore pose a danger to themselves and others. Without a level of .08 BAC or higher, drivers are not generally impaired by the trace amounts of alcohol in their systems.

However, the NTSB would like to lower the legal BAC limit to .05 or higher. It hopes that in doing so the fatal drunk driving accident rate will go down. Unfortunately, lowering this limit will likely cause many more DUI convictions of individuals who are not driving while impaired.

Addressing the threat to public safety that real drunk driving causes is an important goal. Locking up and otherwise attaching criminal records to individuals who pose no danger to themselves or others is not. Given that this proposal does not address the issue at hand and will ultimately harm a great many Americans by branding them as criminals for behaving in biologically safe ways, it should not be embraced by federal regulators or state legislators.

Source: The New York Times, “Safety Board Considers Lowering of Legal Limit for Drunken Driving,” Matthew L. Wald, May 14, 2013

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