Seeking to toughen the allowable alcohol limit for drivers, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is calling on states to lower the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) to 0.05 or lower from the current 0.08.

The intent behind the proposed new standard is to cut down on the nearly 10,000 annual deaths related to alcohol-impaired driving.

The NTSB board made the recommendations on the 25th anniversary of this country’s worst drunk driving crash in Carrollton, Kentucky in which 24 children and three adults were killed and 34 were injured when a drunk driver in a pickup truck rammed a school bus returning from a church trip to an amusement park.

The safety board said that one-third of all traffic fatalities today are related to alcohol. It contends that the risk of a crash is lowered by half if the recommended lower level of 0.05 BAC is enforced.

Following the 1982 recommendation by the NTSB to lower the BAC to 0.08 from 0.10, in 1983, Utah became the first state to do so. It took until 2004 before all states fell in line.

Noting that most of the industrialized world – more than 100 countries -- has already adopted the lower standard, Robert Molloy of the NTSB said, “We are behind the world.”

Other NTSB recommendations include increasing penalties for first and repeat offenders, mandating that convicted drunk drivers use an ignition interlock device that requires them to blow into a device to show they are sober before they can start the car, using special DWI courts to handle offenders, and more technology, such as “sniffing flashlights” that can be used by police officers to detect the odor of alcohol.

As reported in The Detroit News, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has not endorsed the NTSB proposal. The paper said the GHSA “agrees with NTSB’s approach of a comprehensive strategy to address drunk driving.” Further, the GHSA said, “We do, however, support the current .08 BAC threshold level. NTSB’s action raises the visibility of drunk driving and we will consider their recommendations.”

Immediate reaction from the American Beverage Institute called the NTSB’s recommendations “ludicrous,” saying that this was “the latest attempt by traffic safety activist groups to expand the definition of ‘drunk.’”

While the NTSB has no authority to change the current standard and can only recommend that each state adopt the lower standard, Congress can make adherence to such standards a requirement for states to receive federal highway funds.

Click here to read the NTSB’s full report, “Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving” (PDF).

(c) 2013, High Gear Media.