There have been a number of DUI related items in the news over the last 8 months. Most of the news items have come from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) with its recommendations and its Reaching Zero program.
The 5 NTSB statistics driving their current recommendations and subsequent program are:
- Alcohol impaired driving takes 10,000 lives each year
- Alcohol impaired driving injures 173,000 people every year
- Of those injured, 27,000 people have life altering injuries
- There are 300,000 alcohol impaired trips taken every day
- Nearly 1 in 3 traffic deaths involve alcohol
These statistics led NTSB to create the Reach Zero program (see their YouTube presentation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=F36wWX1ZI70) which has 4 recommendations.
- Reduce the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) from the current level of 0.08 to 0.05
- Urge states to require interlocks for all DWI offenders
- Have more high-visibility enforcement such as sobriety checkpoints
- Targeted use of DWI courts to hold offenders accountable and reduce repeat offenders
These recommendations are center pieces to NTSB’s Reaching Zero program where we eliminate alcohol impaired driving and fatalities to zero from their current levels. I am all for reducing traffic fatalities of all kinds including alcohol related fatalities and accidents. These efforts do raise a couple of interesting questions:
- If we implemented some or all of these recommendations, will we have the desired result?
- What will it cost to implement these efforts?
- Who will pay for them?
- Are there better ways to accomplish the goal?
Reducing the BAC: In 2000 Washington lobbied all 50 states to reduce blood alcohol concentration level from 0.1 to 0.08. The premise then, as now, is that it would save lives.
- Alcohol related fatalities dropped consistently from 1982 when they represented about 48% of all deaths to 1996 where they represented about 30% of all traffic related deaths.
- Since 1996, alcohol related traffic fatalities have consistently fluctuated between 30% and 32%.
- In addition to lowering the BAC to 0.08, states also raised the legal drinking age in all state to 21 and heavily cracked down on underage drinking.
There are a number of factors that influence BAC levels including:
- Body weight
- Stomach contents
If the legal limit is reduced from 0.08 to 0.05, then we could see the following:
- An adult man weighing 180 pounds could be considered legally drunk after drinking 3 beers in 90 minutes.
- An adult woman weighing 130 pounds could be considered legally drunk after only 2 beers in 90 minutes.
Even NTSB statistics show the majority of alcohol-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes have BAC levels well over 0.08. I don’t think we’ll see the states succumb to this recommendation unless we see the same kind of push out of Washington that occurred in 2000. Given the inability for our Congress to agree on anything these days, I think it’s safe to say, this won’t happen soon, nor would it have the desired effect NTSB believes it would.
Interlock Devices: NTSB also called on states to require installing ignition interlock devices on the cars of all drivers convicted of drunken driving. This recommendation would also apply to first time offenders. An ignition interlock prohibits the car from starting if the alcohol level exceeding legal limits is detected on the breath of the driver utilizing a Breathalyzer mounted on the car’s dashboard.
A similar measure was introduced for consideration by the Texas Legislature earlier this year. The bill passed the House, but was not hear in the Senate Committee. There are 17 states that currently require ignition interlocks including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. I like this recommendation and would like to see it adopted in Texas and the other states that haven’t done so yet.
Enforcement: NTSB calls on the states to have higher levels and more visible enforcement measures including sobriety checkpoints. We typically see these efforts during holidays that involve drinking such as New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, etc. These efforts are effective, although, it’s hard for police departments to be everywhere at the same time.
The NTSB’s Reach Zero program has a lofty, noble, and unlikely goal of eliminating alcohol related traffic fatalities and accidents. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for this goal though. Of the 4 stated goals, the 2 that have the highest level of being enacted by the states are:
- Installing ignition interlocks
- More visible and frequent sobriety checkpoints
Even with our Nation’s current economic recovery, most state budgets are substantially strained. It would take higher levels of taxes to initiate all 4 recommendations, more training, and probably more personnel to bring them about, and even then, we may not have the desired result.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, does not endorse reducing BAC levels as NTSB recommends. They do however, support ignition interlocks and higher enforcement levels of existing laws in each state. I tend to agree. Are there better ways to reduce alcohol related fatalities than with strict punitive measures? What do you think? Share your comments, suggestions, and questions with me on our Facebook and Google + pages, or in the comments section of our blog. I’d love to hear from you.