NTSB recommends lowering DUI threshold

The National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended that states should lower their blood alcohol content thresholds from .08 to .05 in an effort to reduce car accidents related to driving under the influence. The NTSB noted that the lower threshold has helped reduce the number of DUI-related deaths in other countries. In European countries, for example, the number of deaths related to DUI offenses dropped by approximately 50 percent within 10 years after the .05 standard was adopted.

According to the NTSB, new strategies are needed to help prevent DUIs in the U.S. Each year, about 30,000 people die in car accidents across the country and roughly 10,000 of those deaths are due to drinking and driving. The agency expects that its recommendation will meet with some opposition, both from lawmakers and the public. By some measures, a women weighing less than 120 pounds would have a .05 BAC after only one drink. A man weighing around 160 pounds would reach .05 after approximately two drinks.

The lowered DUI threshold was only one of many recommendations made by the NTSB. It also recommended that states implement more stringent laws requiring everyone convicted of a DUI to use ignition interlock devices. Currently, a total of 17 states require all DUI offenders to install these devices in their vehicles and four counties in California - Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare - are participating in a similar IID pilot program. Efforts to increase IID use have proven more popular than lowering the BAC threshold, but officials point out that many drivers have been able to find ways around using the devices consistently. Furthermore, because offenders are required to pay the costs associated with the devices - including installation, rental and periodic calibration fees - the widespread use of IIDs could prove to be a real economic burden.

The NTSB also recommended that law enforcement begin working on new ways to prevent intoxicated drivers from evading detection. Specifically, the agency encouraged continued use of passive alcohol detectors. These devices are small sensors, often contained in a flashlight or other device, that alert officers when they are near someone who has been drinking.

Only time will tell whether states choose to adopt the NTSB's recommendations for lowering the incidence of DUIs. It is clear, however, that regulators, lawmakers and law enforcement agencies are committed to stepping up enforcement of existing DUI laws, as well as imposing even stricter penalties on those who are convicted of DUI crimes.