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Driving while 'buzzed" and car accidents, part 2: lower BAC?

In part one of this post, we noted the recent finding by a team of researchers led by a UC - San Diego sociologist that even a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .01 significantly raises the risk of car accidents.

In this part of the post, let's look at the implications of this finding for car-accident prevention efforts. Could it mean, for example, that California and other states will consider lowering their BAC limits for drunk-driving charges?

After all, as was widely reported last May, a key federal safety agency has been urging states to lower their limits from .08 to .05. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made this recommendation after noting that more than 100 countries around the world have BAC limits of .05.

Indeed, in some countries, notably Japan and Sweden, BAC limits for drunk-driving offenses are even lower than .05.

So far, no state has acted on the NTSB's .05 recommendation. But the research finding we have been discussing on "driving while buzzed" is further evidence of the logic behind the NTSB's position.

Of course, the practical strategy of which drunk-driving prevention efforts to prioritize is not something all safety advocates agree on. Some safety advocates, for example, may want to emphasize stricter and more rigorously enforced ignition-interlock requirements for convicted drunk-driving offenders.

But the finding that drivers are compromised by alcohol even at .01 could potentially add impetus to drunk-driving prevention efforts on multiple levels. The finding shows there is a continuum of impairment that begins as soon as someone starts drinking.

The current .08 threshold for drunk driving is therefore an arbitrary one. There is no bright line, as the San Diego sociologist said, between drunk and not drunk. But there is a slippery slope.

Source: Fox News, "Buzzed drivers under legal limit still risk car accidents," Reuters, Jan. 22, 2014 Additional source: Bloomberg, "Drunken-Driving Limit Should be Lowered to .05, NTSB Says," Angela Greiling Keane, May 14, 2013

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