The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Lowering the legal drinking limit isn’t the answer

A breathalyzer.
A breathalyzer. (Tracy A. Woodward/THE WASHINGTON POST)
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Marcus Kowal’s Sept. 12 Wednesday Opinion essay “A proven way to save countless lives” criticized my organization — the American Beverage Institute — for its opposition to lowering the legal blood alcohol limit for driving from 0.08 to 0.05 blood alcohol content. While the tragedy prompting the author’s efforts is horrific, pushing this ineffective policy will not reduce the drunken- driving problem.

Drunken driving is a major issue that demands attention, but targeting drivers at 0.05 blood alcohol content, a threshold that is less impairing than talking on a hands-free cellphone, is not the solution. The real problem lies with high blood alcohol content and repeat offenders who are responsible for the vast majority of alcohol-related traffic fatalities. The average blood alcohol content of a drunken driver involved in a fatal crash is 0.18.

The report cited by the author supporting 0.05 legislation attempts to reconcile this flaw by claiming there’s a broad deterrence effect that will discourage drunken driving. But, someone who already breaks the law by driving well above the current limit of 0.08 is unlikely to change his or her behavior after the limit is lowered to 0.05. Instead, we should target criminals with ignition interlock device mandates for all repeat and high-blood-alcohol-content offenders, increased state-level interlock enforcement and more comprehensive sobriety programs.

Focusing limited traffic safety resources on someone who had a drink with dinner, rather than legitimately drunk drivers, is not the solution.

Jackson Shedelbower, Washington

The writer is the communications director of the American Beverage Institute.