In an effort to cut alcohol-related highway deaths, a more stringent drunk driving threshold is being sought.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is working to have the current blood alcohol threshold of .08 slashed down to .05, which would match a standard that has significantly cut highway deaths in other countries, according to The Associated Press (AP).
The reduced level of .05 percent amounts to about one four-ounce drink for a woman weighing under 120 pounds or two drinks for a 160-pound man, according to the AP.
More than 100 countries have adopted the lower .05 alcohol content standard; some have adopted even lower thresholds, according to a report by the staff of the NTSB. The report also noted that, in Europe, drunken driving-related traffic deaths dropped by more than half within a decade once the lowered threshold level was put in place, the AP wrote.
Officials with the NTSB said that it is not their aim to stop drivers from having a glass of wine with dinner, but acknowledged that utilizing the lowered threshold would mean that, for people choosing to have a drink or two, the best option is to not drive, according to AP. Most studies define a drink as either being 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of an 80-proof alcohol,
In fact, according to the AP, .01 blood alcohol levels have been associated with driving-related performance impairment; .05 levels have been associated with significantly higher risks of fatal crashes, the NTSB pointed out.
Drunk driving kills about one-third of the some 30,000 people killed annually on highways in the United States, and those figures have not dropped in the past 15 years, according to the AP.
“Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. “Alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will,” Hersman noted, the AP wrote.
According to a related CNN article, adult drivers self-reported drinking and driving some 112 million times in 2010; just 1.4 million, or about 1 percent, were arrested, meaning that, 99 percent of the time, the driver got away with driving while drunk.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that about 85 percent of self-reported drunken drivers were binge drinkers, translating—for men—to about five drinks per hour, raising their blood alcohol level to .10 percent, according to CNN.
There are stumbling blocks to the proposed change, CNN noted, including the food and beverage lobby and bar and restaurant owners, which don’t want to see a drop in what patrons consume. And, then there’s the cost of increasing Breathalyzer checkpoint locations, which are used to catch and apprehend drunk drivers, and to get them off of the road.