We’ve taken great strides to reduce drunk driving in the U.S. From the early 1980s to the early 2000s, we increased the drinking age to 21 and lowered the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit to 0.08 percent across all states. These changes worked; alcohol-related traffic fatalities were cut in half, with the greatest decline in deaths seen among teenagers. Changes in drinking and driving laws saved at least 150,000 lives from 1982 to 2001—more than the total number of lives saved by airbags, increased usage of seat belts, and bicycle and motorcycle helmet usage.
However, after the early 2000s, the achievement of further reductions in drunk driving slowed dramatically. Eventually, DUI figures began to rise again; currently, one-third of all traffic fatalities are the result of at least one person in a crash driving under the influence. Two out of every five persons who died in alcohol-related crashes are not even drunk drivers, but are victims. The most recent fatality figures for deaths caused by drunk driving are stubbornly stuck at slightly more than 10,000 each year.
Because of the lack of continued progress, safety officials went back to the drawing board in an effort to find ways to move DUI numbers lower once more.
The Vision Zero Study
Vision Zero is the name of the study sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It takes its name from the phrase “a vision of zero fatalities” resulting from drunk driving. The study, published in January, 2018, and executed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, came up with a number of suggestions after extensive research. The biggest one was to lower the current legal BAC level to 0.05 percent.
Why Lower the BAC Limit?
The first of several reasons is that other countries have proven that lives are saved by a 0.05 BAC limit. In the U.S., lowering the BAC limit could reduce fatalities by 10 percent a year, or by more than 1,000 lives.
The second reason is that impairment from alcohol has been shown to begin at BAC 0.02 percent. For small persons, especially women, that’s only a few sips of one drink. At the BAC level of 0.05, there is evidence of reduced coordination and steering abilities, and impaired ability to respond to emergency situations.
At 0.08 BAC, the current limit, our brain’s ability to logically process information and to perceive what is going on around us is clearly impaired. Our judgment, reasoning abilities, short-term memory, and our self-control all drop significantly by the time we reach 0.08 BAC. All of these reductions in our faculties increase our chances of causing a crash.
Inherent Problems with BAC Limits
It’s difficult to know how impaired you might be if you have had a drink. Many factors play a part in determining BAC levels, including gender, weight, age, recent food intake, medication intake, and what you are drinking. Did you know that the amount of alcohol in one ounce of hard liquor is about the same as five ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer? Then there’s the problem of bartenders who may be pouring amounts of alcohol that are more generous than the average.
If BAC 0.05 becomes legal, as it will on December 30, 2018, in Utah, a 120-pound female would break the limit after only one five-ounce glass of wine. A 180-pound male could have, at best, two beers before running afoul of the BAC limit. These figures are averages; the actual BAC level could vary quite a bit from person to person.
Using the BAC level to limit drinking may seem flawed, but it is the best method we have for enforcing DUI laws and saving lives. When it comes to mixing alcoholic drinks and driving, less is always better.
Other Recommendations by the Study Group
Vision Zero also recommended other steps that would reduce alcohol-impaired driving, including:
- Increasing taxes on alcohol, because increased taxes inhibit both DUI deaths and binge drinking.
- Strengthening existing laws that address sales to minors and to persons exhibiting signs of intoxication.
- Requiring ignition interlocks—equipment connected to a vehicle that analyzes BAC levels—to be used by persons convicted of driving drunk.
- Creating “DUI Courts” that also include treatment options for those convicted. Stopping the DUI cycle in repeat offenders is critical, because they are 62 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal crash.
All of the suggestions above would help lower the DUI fatality rates and save lives. Let’s hope that the right people are paying attention.
Were you injured by a drunk driver? We’re listening.
The aftermath of a motor vehicle collision can be life-changing for drunken driving crash victims and their families, and recovery often takes years of patience and dedication. At the Offices of Steven H. Heisler, we have devoted our practice to defending the rights of personal injury victims. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a vehicular accident, you may be entitled to various kinds of financial compensation, such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Keep in mind, however, that there is a statute of limitations – or a time limit – for filing personal injury claims, so you should not delay. Contact Steve today for a free initial consultation by calling 1-410-625-4878, or use our confidential online contact form.