A decade-old benchmark for determining when a driver is legally intoxicated the 0.08 blood-alcohol content rate -- should be lowered to 0.05, reducing the amount a motorist can drink before being presumed to be drunk, federal safety officials said Tuesday.
At a meeting in Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board is recommending that all 50 states lower the threshold to reduce the nation's drunk driving death toll, which has plateaued at about 10,000 deaths a year.
Lowering the rate to 0.05 would save about 500 to 800 lives every year, NTSB staff members said, and is a crucial part of the board's attempt to eliminate drunken driving in the United States.
"There are so many people out here drinking, you know getting [a] DWI," said one driver. "They go to court, they come out, and do the same thing. We need to come together as a nation and help people who have a problem."
Under current law, a 180-pound male typically will hit the 0.08 threshold after drinking four drinks in an hour, according to an online blood alcohol calculator published by the University of Oklahoma.
That same person could reach the 0.05 threshold after two to three drinks in an hour, according to the calculator. (Many factors besides gender and weigh influence a person's blood alcohol content level. And many states outlaw lower levels of inebriation when behind the wheel.)
The NTSB will also consider numerous other actions Tuesday as part of its "Reaching Zero" plan to eliminate alcohol-related driving fatalities.
The board will consider recommending that states vastly expand laws allowing police to swiftly confiscate licenses from drivers who exceed the blood alcohol limits. And it is pushing for laws requiring all first-time offenders to have ignition locking devices that prevent cars from starting until breath samples are analyzed.
All NTSB recommendations are advisory and do not carry the force of law. But the independent agency is influential on matters of public safety, and its action could spur action from like-minded legislators and transportation departments across the country.