VIDEO: Lowering State-Law BAC Thresholds

State governments can adopt a number of strategies to reduce alcohol-related crashes, according to a new report, including lowering the DWI blood alcohol concentration (BAC) threshold from .08 to .05 percent and raising alcohol taxes.

A committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conducted the study at the request of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Other report recommendations include strengthening policies to prevent alcohol sales to people under 21 and to adults who are already intoxicated, requiring ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders, and making effective treatment available to all offenders.

More than 10,000 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities occur in the U.S. each year, despite progress in recent decades. All 50 states currently have a BAC threshold of .08 percent in place. In 2017, however, Utah passed a law lowering the limit to .05 percent. That state law takes effect Dec. 30.

The committee’s report asserts that a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle begins to deteriorate at low levels of BAC. The report cites studies showing that adopting a .05 percent BAC limit can markedly reduce road deaths tied to alcohol-impaired driving. Countries that have such a lower threshold include Austria, Denmark and Japan.

The report also recommends that the federal government create incentives for states to lower the BAC limit. Moreover, strong media and enforcement campaigns should accompany such policy changes, according to the report.

“The plateauing fatality rates indicate that what has been done to decrease deaths from alcohol-impaired driving has been working but is no longer sufficient to reverse this growing public health problem,” said committee chair Steven Teutsch, an adjunct professor at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and a senior fellow at the Public Health Institute. “Our report offers a comprehensive blueprint to reinvigorate commitment and calls for systematic implementation of policies, programs, and systems changes to renew progress and save lives.”

Additional report recommendations include:

  • State and local limitations on alcohol availability, including restrictions on the number of on- and off-premise outlets and the days and hours of alcohol sales
  • Stronger federal, state and local standards for alcohol marketing content
  • Sobriety checkpoints to identify and arrest alcohol-impaired drivers
  • State DWI courts that specialize in changing offender behavior through monitoring and substance abuse treatment
  • Municipality support for alternative transportation
  • Further development of Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) technology.

Last month, National Transportation Safety Board member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr urged employers with motor vehicle fleets to publicly support legislative efforts to lower BAC thresholds to .05 percent.

“Many peer-reviewed studies have shown that such a law would prevent impaired-driving crashes,” Dinh-Zarr wrote in a blog. “While commercial drivers already are required to comply with a .04 BAC limit, employers can be an important influence in the lives of their employees, as well as in the communities in which they operate, by educating their employees and spreading the word about the effectiveness of a .05 BAC law.”

On average since 1982, one-third of all traffic deaths are attributed to alcohol-impaired driving, and nearly 40 percent of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities are victims other than the drinking driver, according to the National Academies of Sciences report.

Click here to download the report. To view a video about the recommendations, click on the photo or link below the headline.