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Reducing BAC from .08 to .05 Will Not Significantly Reduce Drunk Driving

Baruch Feigenbaum
May 24, 2013, 8:21am

In an Op-Ed in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution, I detail why lowering the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) from .08 to .05 will not significantly reduce deaths. 

Of the more than 36,000 traffic fatalities in the U.S., less than one percent was caused by drivers with a blood alcohol content between .05 and .08. Two thirds of fatalities involved drivers with a BAC of 0.14 or higher. Each person’s body processes alcohol differently. Some people can safely drive with a BAC of .10. Others cannot safely drive with a BAC of .02. Setting one standard is arbitrary. 

There are many factors that make driving dangerous. Talking on a cell phone, having kids in the car and adjusting the radio can make it more likely for a driver to have an accident than a BAC of .08. Driving will never be risk free. 

Driving has become safer. In 2012 there were 10,000 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. This is a substantial decrease from 1955 when there were 55,000 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles. 

The entire Op-Ed is available here. I have included the first few paragraphs of the Op-Ed below 

Everyone wants travelers heading to Lake Lanier, family barbecues or other events to be safe this Memorial Day weekend. Too many Americans continue to die from drunk driving. However, there is little factual evidence that a new proposal to lower the blood alcohol content standard used to determine drunk driving from 0.08 to 0.05 will reduce deaths. 

Lowering the standard will not save many lives. The statistics the National Transportation Safety Board used to recommend a lower standard are questionable. NTSB claims that lowering the standard will cut many of the nearly 10,000 annual deaths from alcohol-impaired driving. But of the more-than 36,000 yearly traffic fatalities in the U.S., less than 1 percent were caused by drivers with a blood alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08. Two-thirds of fatalities involved motorists with a BAC of 0.14 or higher. Surprisingly, drivers with a BAC of 0.01 to 0.03 were involved in more fatal accidents than drivers with a BAC of 0.08 to 0.10. 

Studies indicate that any number of things — talking on a cell phone, eating, adjusting the radio or having kids in the car — can make it more likely for a driver to have an accident than having a 0.08 BAC. When the BAC was last lowered, from 0.08 to 0.10, alcohol-related traffic fatalities actually increased. 

The rest of the article is available here.


Baruch Feigenbaum is Transportation Policy Analyst


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