NTSB Recommends .05 Blood Alcohol Level for Drunken Driving

By: Leah Uko

OMAHA (KPTM) - It could soon be easier to get cited for a DUI. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants all states to drop the legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level from .08 to .05.

The board said that drunken driving is a consistent threat to public safety and that lowering the limit will change that.

Currently all 50 states in the United States have a BAC level set at .08. It took 21 years last time to change the limit from .10 to .08.

According to NTSB, 10,000 deaths occur every year from drunken driving related accidents and 170,000 injuries.

Wes Davis, who was out in Omaha on vacation and having an alcoholic beverage at Mojo's Smokehouse & Ales, said he agreed these numbers are a problem. He didn't feel lowering the limit would help.

"I don't know if the .05 is going to be that much of a deterrent on our abilities to drive," Davis said.

NTSB said a .05 limit would save 1,000 lives a year.

The suggestion drew criticism from law enforcement.

Chief Deputy Marty Bilek with the Douglas County Sheriff's Department said the recommendation is too premature to determine whether or not a lower limit would be beneficial.

"I'd like to see empirical evidence that's going to show and that's going to prove that that's going to save lives and reduce injuries."

Bilek said a lower limit would penalize responsible drinking.

"I don't want to necessarily be in the business of stigmatizing law abiding citizens by arresting them for DUI," he continued. "Unless I can say and unless I can show that--yes we are saving lives."

Bilek also added that a lowered limit could potentially create more DUIs and affect taxpayer money.

"If the limit is lower, we're going to be arresting more people for drunken driving and that is time consuming," he explained. "Our officers will spend hours processing DUI arrests."

Employees working in the restaurant industry feared a .05 BAC level would lessen bar sales.

Max Holmquist who bartends at Mojo's said customers tip based off the overall amount of a bill; to abide by the BAC level, he said, they'd have to order less drinks.

"I'll probably be a little more paranoid when I'm bartending, you know, like 'did I over serve that person'?" Holmquist said. "Because that's a drastic difference in the amount of drinks I can serve someone."

According to law enforcement officials familiar with DUIs, lowering the BAC level three points could be equivalent to one less drink--a shot, cocktail or beer.

A person's alertness can deter after the first drink--car navigation, eyesight, reflexes and depth perception to name a few.

Jeffery Jones said a .05 or .08 BAC level will not discourage drinking and driving.

Jones, who has been driving cabs for more than six years, said rarely are his customers people out drinking spontaneously.

"Those that are going to drink and drive are going to drink and drive," Jones said. "I don't see a lot of new business coming through actual dispatch itself."

NTSB is an independent federal agency that investigates causes of significant accidents and makes recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents.

It has no legal authority to change any law--only recommend what is safe. It is up to individual states to adopt recommendations.

Currently, the United States, Canada and Iraq have a BAC level of .08.

Russia, South America and most countries in Europe have a BAC level of .05.