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NTSB Recommends Lowering Legal Limit To Reduce Drunk Driving Deaths

More Than 100 Countries Have Limit Set At .05, Instead Of .08 U.S. Standard

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WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Federal accident investigators recommended Tuesday that states cut their threshold for drunken driving by nearly half, matching a standard that has substantially reduced highway deaths in other countries.

As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, no one wants to take a walk into the New York State Police barracks and end up chained to the wall, waiting to meet a machine that will measure the amount of alcohol in their blood. For troopers who work there, it is a steady, repetitive routine.

“Some people think they’re OK and they’re obviously not,” Trooper William Lanning said.

“We keep arresting people. People keep doing it,” added Trooper Sean Moran. “Maybe the laws aren’t strict enough.”

The National Transportation Safety Board agrees. The board said states should shrink the standard from the current .08 blood-alcohol content to .05 as part of a series of recommendations aimed at reducing alcohol-related highway deaths.

More than 100 countries have adopted the .05 alcohol content standard or lower, according to a report by the board’s staff. In Europe, the share of traffic deaths attributable to drunken driving was reduced by more than half within 10 years after the standard was dropped.

As it is, the legal calculus for drinking and driving is already pretty tight. Right now, most people can get into trouble with four or five drinks, but lowering the blood-alcohol limit from .08 to point .05 percent would make it easier to cross that threshold.

For some people three, two or even one drink would do it, turning a lapse in judgment into a crime.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut all have the legal limit set at .08 percent, though the rules are stricter for underage drivers.

For drinkers, it is a lot of guesswork. The factors that go into determining blood-alcohol include one’s personal alcohol tolerance, sleep deprivation, weight, and metabolism. Basically, though, a 160-pound man is able to consume three and a half drinks before driving now, and the NTSB advisory would lower it to two.

For a 130-pound woman, three drinks would be reduced as well. But it is an easy line to cross, which is why lobbyists representing the restaurant industry are opposing it.

“The NTSB is 100 percent wrong about this. I mean, the fact is, fewer than one percent of traffic fatalities happen in this space between .05 and .08. Recommendations like this target moderate, social drinkers instead of targeting the hardcore drunk driving population that causes the vast majority of alcohol-related fatalities,” Sarah Longwell from American Beverage Institute told WCBS 880’s Wayne Cabot.

Legislation lowering blood-alcohol levels traditionally has been slow to pass. The last drop from .1 to .08 took 21 years to make it onto the books.

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