“The fact is, many alcohol-involved traffic incidents aren't caused by alcoholics, but just people who had one too many, and lowering the legal limit helps deter those people,” says Thomas Babor, an expert on alcohol abuse at the University of Connecticut’s medical school in Farmington.
Indeed, both supporters and critics of the NTSB recommendation agree on that point: Drunken drivers shouldn’t be on the road. But how you make that happen is a sticking point.
According to the NTSB, a driver with a BAC of 0.05 is 38 percent more likely to be in a crash as compared with a completely sober driver, and a driver with a level of 0.08 is 169 percent more likely. (The figure rises to nearly 400 percent when the driver has a BAC of 0.10.)
At 0.05, individuals are “as distracted as you are when you have the radio up too loud,” says Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute, a trade organization.
“This would have a devastating impact on the hospitality industry while having no corollary benefit for public safety,” she says.
Instead, she says, the government should focus its efforts on the “hard-core drunk drivers” responsible for the majority of alcohol-linked road deaths. That means better education around drinking and driving and a focus on technologies like the ignition interlock, a small device like a breathalyzer installed on a car’s dashboard that forces the driver to demonstrate sobriety before he or she can start the vehicle.
MADD supports many of these efforts, too, and says government needs to redouble its efforts to enforce the laws it already has in place to stop impaired driving.
Since the 1980s, organizations like MADD have successfully launched public-awareness campaigns that have stigmatized drunken driving and led to more-stringent limits across the country.