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It may be difficult to imagine, but the U.S. has some of the least restrictive drunk driving laws in the world. Some critics believe that the .08 blood alcohol limit (BAC) for U.S. drivers is too strict. But more than 100 nations around the world have reduced the legal BAC limit even further, some as low as .02.

While it doesn’t come as any surprise that lowering the legal BAC limit for driving under the influence will ultimately result in fewer alcohol-related traffic accidents and deaths, it also could make social drinking a criminal act. For example, a man weighing 180 pounds could be over the proposed limit of .05 BAC by consuming just three drinks in one hour. A woman weighing 140 pounds would be legally intoxicated at two drinks in the same time frame.

It is hard to imagine someone could be guilty of the crime of driving under the influence after a couple drinks, but if the National Transportation Safety Board gets its way, the United States could be on its way to a much lower legal blood alcohol concentration limit.

Facts about Driving under the Influence in California

According to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs 2010 Report, here are some statistics about driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs:

  • Alcohol and other drugs were reported as being involved in 1,768 traffic-related deaths;
  • Alcohol was responsible for 24,343 traffic-related injuries;
  • 195,879 drivers were arrested for DUI;
  • 77.6 percent of all California DUI arrests were male (more than 3 out of 4 drivers);
  • 34.7 percent of traffic-related deaths or injuries involved fixed objects; 52.7% involved multiple vehicles.

What the National Transportation Safety Board Wants

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has stated it has a “zero tolerance” goal in its report on how to reduce drunk-driving deaths. The agency thinks it is reasonable to try to ensure that no one ever dies in an alcohol-related accident.

In response to efforts made by advocacy groups such as RID (Remove Intoxicated Drivers) and MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), states began to lower the blood-alcohol legal limit for driving under the influence from .10 to .08 in the 1980’s. Additionally, the national legal drinking age was raised to 21 during this time, and states also adopted a “zero tolerance” rule for drivers under age 21.

One study found that lowering the BAC standard has saved some 360 lives a year. The agency concludes that we should lower it all the way to .05, which it figures would save from 500 to 800 lives per year.

According to the NTSB, your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle becomes impaired even before you reach a BAC of .08, which is exactly why the agency wants the national legal limit reduced. However, your ability to safely drive a vehicle could be affected by a number of reasons that have nothing to do with alcohol or drug consumption, for example:

  • Weather and road conditions;
  •  Taking over-the-counter medications (it’s illegal to driving under the influence of certain prescription medications, such as sleeping pills);
  • Not enough sleep;
  • Lack of food;
  • Texting on a cellphone (also illegal in California). An adult over the age of 18 may talk on a cellphone, provided that it has hands free capabilities.

Because lowering the BAC legal limit for driving under the influence necessarily imposes a criminal punishment for what could be considered as moderate social drinking, we must decide as a nation if the advantages to changing the law outweigh the disadvantages.

Advantages of Lowering BAC Limit to .05

The National Traffic Safety Board estimates that a driver with .05 BAC is 38 percent more likely to crash than one who is completely sober. At .08 BAC, a driver is nearly three times more likely to be involved in an accident than a sober driver. At .10, the risk is nearly five times greater.

Undoubtedly, lowering the legal limit for driving under the influence to .05 will save lives and reduce the likelihood of traffic accidents causing injuries due to impaired driving. But why stop there? Why not reduce the legal limit to zero? A “one-and-your-done law.” Certainly, this would take a lot of the guesswork out of deciding whether you’ve had too many or not.

Disadvantages of Lowering BAC Limit to .05

Lowering the BAC legal limit to .05 for driving under the influence will also draw law enforcement officers away from stopping and arresting a more significantly impaired driver, thus taking valuable and costly police resources away from targeting the worst offenders. Police will be required to chase after drivers who pose a lot less danger, reducing the likelihood that more impaired drivers get caught.

Additionally, “normal” social drinkers may be less likely to engage in otherwise perfectly legal drinking. This will likely lead to a significant reduction in sales of alcohol and perhaps food at restaurants and bars – not something establishments in the food and beverage industry will be particularly pleased to support.

MADD Does Not Support NTSB Proposal

Interestingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a staunch supporter of tougher DUI laws over the years, does not support the NTSB’s proposal. MADD believes that increased enforcement of existing laws, combined with a requirement of an ignition interlock device (“IID”) for everyone convicted of a DUI, will do as much, if not more, than lowering the legal limit to .05. At the same time, innocent social drinkers may be spared the humiliation and inconvenience of a DUI conviction, reserving that punishment for those who are more deserving.

The NTSB acknowledges this last policy – requiring IID’s for every DUI offender – would save some 1,100 lives per year – far more than a lower BAC would save.

How to Protect Yourself if the Legal Limit is Lowered to .05

The obvious answer is don’t drive if you plan to drink and don’t drink if you plan to drive. Eliminate one of these two elements of drinking and driving and you can’t be charged with DUI. The attorneys at Wallin & Klarich suggest these strategies for reducing the likelihood that you are arrested for a DUI in California:

  • Choose a “Designated Driver” (someone who doesn’t drink any alcohol) for your party if you plan to go out to “enjoy a few.”
  • Put aside $50 to $100 in cash for a taxi ride home if you go out drinking. Compared to the cost of a DUI, this is a very small investment.
  • Hire transportation for the evening. A limousine or other hired car service starts at around $50 per hour in Southern California. You could split the cost among your friends.
  • Use a “Party Bus” service. A hot new trend in Southern California, party bus services travel along popular, planned routes such as along the Orange County Coast (Huntington Beach to Newport Beach/Balboa Peninsula), stopping at local hotspots along the way. Many of these party buses come equipped with disco lighting and amazing sound systems pumping out the latest dance music. Starting at around $7.00 per person, this is a unique and economical way to party the night away safely.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to 1 drink per hour. This is about the amount of time it takes the body to process a drink. Many people are surprised to learn what counts as a drink. In the United States, a “standard” drink is any drink that contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of alcohol. Although the drinks below are different sizes, each contains approximately the same amount of alcohol and counts as a single standard drink:
    • A 12 fluid ounce beer
    • An 8-9 fluid ounce of malt liquor
    • A 5 fluid ounce glass of wine
    • A shot (1 ½ ounce) of 80-proof liquor

Contact a California DUI Defense Attorney Today

If you or someone you know has been charged with a DUI crime, you need to call an attorney at Wallin & Klarich immediately. At Wallin and Klarich, we have over 30 years of experience successfully defending our clients who have been charged with driving under the influence.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, we can represent you no matter where you are located. Call us at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.

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