Federal officials recommended that all 50 states lower the legal standard for driving drunk from .08 blood-alcohol content (BAC) to .05, saying it would prevent between 500 and 800 deaths annually, CNN reported on Tuesday.
"In the last 30 years, more than 440,000 people have perished in this country due to alcohol-impaired driving. What will be our legacy 30 years from now?" said National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair Debbie Hersman. "If we don't tackle alcohol-impaired driving now, when will we find the will to do so?"
According to an online BAC calculator published by the University of Oklahoma, an 180-pound man will reach a .08 BAC after four drinks during a 60-minute period. By comparison, that person could reach .05 in two or three drinks.
The board's recommendation is part of a new report that, while acknowledging there is no "silver bullet," aims to curtail drunk driving. Though states are responsible for setting their own BAC standards, the NTSB's recommendations do carry a level of influence in public safety matters.
The report also calls for allowing states to expand laws to give police greater leeway in confiscating drunk drivers' licenses and for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to give states financial incentives to make the change, which the NTSB said would bring it in line with more than 100 other countries.
However, a spokesperson for the Governors Highway Safety Association told USA Today the move would be unlikely.
"When the limit was .10, it was very difficult to get it lowered to .08," said Jonathan Adkins. "We don't expect any state to go to .05"
The NTSB's report was also criticized by American Beverage Institute, which represents 8,000 restaurants. The trade group called the recommendation "ludicrous," saying 70 percent of accidents are caused by drivers with .15 BACs.
"Further restricting the moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hard-core drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel," said the group's managing director, Sarah Longwell.
The NTSB said that even at .01 BAC, drivers in simulators exhibit issues keeping their attention on the road, which are only exacerbated the more they drink.
"Many of the recommendations "are going to be unpopular," said board member Robert Sumwalt, who has both lost a relative to a drunk driver and has another serving a 15-year-sentence for a fatal crash involving drunk driving. "But if we keep doing what we're doing, we're not going to make any difference."
The board also called for the creation of specialized drunk-driving courts; documentation of the sites where drunk drivers had their last drinks before taking the wheel; and requiring convicted drunk drivers to install steering locks on their vehicles before being allowed to drive again.
In a statement on its website, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) said it appreciated the board's recommendations but was focusing its resources on eliminating drunk driving entirely through its own set of countermeasures, which include a 24-hour hotline for drunk driving victims, advocating for ignition locks on convicted drivers' vehicles, and increased visibility for law enforcement.
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