WASHINGTON – With drunken driving still a stubborn national problem that accounts for one-third of all traffic deaths, federal safety regulators Tuesday called on states to take a dramatic step: Lower the legal limit for drivers’ blood-alcohol content from 0.08 percent to at least 0.05 percent.
The National Transportation Safety Board also called for government incentives to prod states into lowering their drunken-driving standard.
“Most Americans think that we’ve solved the problem of impaired driving, but in fact, it’s still a national epidemic,” said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman. Research shows that drivers with a blood-alcohol content, or BAC, above 0.05 percent “are impaired and at a significantly greater risk of being involved in a crash where someone is killed or injured.”
The recommendation comes about 13 years after President Bill Clinton signed legislation requiring states to set a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level or lose millions of dollars in federal highway funds.
Initially, Congress chose the carrot over the stick, creating a $500 million incentive fund to coax states into enacting the 0.08 percent standard. But after only a few states did, lawmakers voted in 2000 to require states to set a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level or lose millions of dollars in federal highway funds.
While total traffic fatalities have fallen, nearly 1 in 3 highway deaths still involves an alcohol-impaired driver, according to NTSB. There were 9,978 deaths in crashes involving drunken drivers in 2011.
The NTSB recommendation drew opposition from the American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade association, which said it would target moderate drinkers instead of dangerous drunken drivers.