NTSB Blood Alcohol Recommendations Could Put More Innocent at Risk


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently recommended that all 50 states should reduce their blood alcohol limits (BAL) from .08 to .05. Florida reduced its BAL from .10 to .08 in 1994.

It Won’t Take Much

The number of drinks a person must consume to reach .05 depends on several factors, including sex, weight, metabolism and speed of consumption. Medical researchers usually consider a “drink” as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of 80-proof liquor. A 0.05 BAL equals about one drink for a woman who weighs less than 120 pounds and about two drinks for a man who weighs about 160 pounds.

Lower BAL Affects the Innocent

Currently, a .05 BAL is proof that a driver is not impaired. What the NTSB is saying now is that a .05 BAL is proof of intoxication, despite the fact that the driver did not appear impaired and performed well on the field sobriety tests. Consequently, lowering the BAL would have the biggest impact on moderate drinkers and probably females simply because they tend to weigh less than males. The proposed change will not significantly affect alcohol abusers, or those people in society who should be the ones targeted criminally.

Another concern about the BAL change relates to the unreliability of breathalyzers. They can make a .05 BAL the same as zero tolerance. Whenever a person’s BAL is measured using a using a machine, there can be significant room error caused not only by the machine’s inherent flaws but also in the correlation between a breath test result and blood test result. A .08 breath result could actually mean a driver has a .06 or .07 blood level. If the state lowers the BAL to .05, then drivers with a BAL of .04, .03 or even .02 could be arrested.

Consequences of DUI Arrest and Conviction

A first-time Florida DUI conviction carries stiff penalties, such as fines, license suspension, jail time and court costs. Additionally, there is a social stigma attached to a DUI conviction and even a DUI arrest. The arrested driver could still find his or her mug shut plastered on the Internet even though the DUI charge did not result in a conviction. A simple DUI arrest can negatively affect employment if the employer discovers it during a background check. Consequently, lowering the BAL could seriously affect the lives of Americans who engage in behavior that society does not currently regard as criminal.

No one disagrees with the principle that society should deter drunken driving. However, the target drivers should not be those with a BAL of .05 to .08. The net is too broad; law enforcement will catch a tremendous number of motorists who do not need to be taken off the road.

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