Blowing the limit
It seems the jury is still out on a recommendation to lower the threshold for driving while intoxicated.
The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that all states lower the threshold from .08 blood-alcohol content to .05. It is part of a host of recommendations from the safety board to eliminate highway deaths caused by drunk driving.
The safety board report claims that lowering the rate to .05 would save about 500 to 800 lives annually.
While the proposal has its backers, it is getting mixed reviews among law enforcement circles, including local police.
High Point Police Chief Marty Sumner questions where the board’s study shows that drivers with a .05-.07 are causing a significant number of fatal crashes.
“I would not debate that some drivers are impaired at that level, but if this recommended change is to reduce fatalities that this group is causing, does the data support that? Not so in my experience,” Sumner said. “Drivers causing fatal collisions in High Point have had much higher BACs (blood alcohol content). The other recommended changes make sense.”
Archdale Police Interim Chief Shannon Craddock said he supports the recommendation.
“We know alcohol affects behavior and cognitive functioning, even at low concentrations. This increases the time drivers take to make decisions, reactions and reduces their capacity for precise motor movements. Alcohol also reduces inhibition and increases confidence and risk-taking,” Craddock said. “I believe that this move will be unpopular among businesses that depend on on-premise alcohol sales. We must be mindful that this reform is not aimed at reducing drinking or impacting alcohol sales, the goal is to disconnect drinking from driving and saving lives.”
The American Beverage Institute, a national restaurant trade organization, is rallying against the proposal. ABI Managing Director Sarah Longwell calls the proposal “ludicrous.”
“Moving from .08 to .05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior,” she states on the group’s website. The group says more than 70 percent of drunk driving fatalities are caused by drivers with BACs of .15 or higher, and the average BAC of a drunk driver involved in a fatal crash is .16 — twice the current legal limit.
While Mothers Against Drunk Driving supports the NTSB’s efforts to reduce drunk-driving deaths, it has not endorsed lowering the limit. MADD has publicly stated it supports changes backed by its own research, including increased sobriety checkpoints and requiring ignition devices that prevent intoxicated persons from operating a motor vehicle. But it currently lacks research that supports lowering the limit.
Other NTSB recommendations include expanding laws allowing confiscation of licenses, requiring all first-time offenders to have ignition locking devices that prevent cars from starting until breath samples are analyzed and the use of highly sensitive alcohol sensors that police can use to sniff the air during a traffic stop.
The board can only recommend changes to federal and state agencies because states set their own BAC levels.
In 2011, 551 DWI related charges were issued with a monthly average of 46 for the year in High Point. In 2012, 610 DWI related charges issued with a monthly average of 51.
So far in 2013, 274 DWI related charges have been reported. The numbers include 59 DWI cases from High Point officers assigned to the Greater Guilford County DWI Task Force.
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Down the hatch
How many drinks can you consume before reaching the limit?
Though actual blood alcohol concentration depends on a variety of factors, including gender, personal health and recent food consumption, here’s a general idea of what it takes to reach the current and proposed limits of .08 and .05, respectively.
If you are a man weighing 200 pounds:
• Three drinks per hour: .04
• Four drinks per hour, .06
• Five drinks per hour, .08
If you are a woman weighing 130 pounds:
• One drink per hour: .02
• Two drinks per hour: .06
• Three drinks per hour: .09
SOURCE: University of North Carolina Wilmington (http://uncw.edu/crossroads/resources_calculator.htm)