We've documented numerous instances of Washington lawmakers perpetually trying to toughen drunk driving laws. But now, the federal government is launching its own effort to crack down on drinking and driving.
Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board unveiled its Most Wanted List of safety improvements for 2016. Under its initiative entitled “End Substance Impairment in Transportation,” it said that “states should lower BAC levels to 0.05— or even lower” when determining a minimum level of alcohol needed to charge a driver with DUI. In all 50 states, the current benchmark for legal impairment is a blood-alcohol level of .08.
If this proposal sounds familiar, it's because the NTSB called for the same action to be taken back in 2013. Not a single state heeded the department's suggestion.
The decreased minimum BAC level doesn't appear to be gaining much traction this time around, either. For one thing, it would mean that a 100-pound woman would likely be legally intoxicated after just one drink, while it would only take two drinks for a 160-pound man to reach the .05% standard.
But more importantly, accident data doesn't provide much support for the need to lower the DUI standard further. Less than one percent of all traffic deaths are caused by drivers with BAC levels between .05 and .08. Moreover, over seven out of every ten drunk driving deaths is caused by drivers who are extremely intoxicated – i.e., who have a BAC of .16 or above.
This development simply reinforces what tends to happen in Washington and many other states: it's always politically safe to go after drunk driving laws, regardless of whether they make any sense.