A recent report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that all states lower the blood alcohol concentration limit to 0.05 for charges of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence of alcohol. The report states that:
- Deterioration in driving skills starts before people reach the 0.08 BAC limit; and
- Countries that use a 0.05 BAC limit have seen a decrease in vehicle accidents.
To be clear, there are no signs that Texas is considering lowering the legal limit. However, Utah became the first state to adopt a 0.05 BAC limit with a law it passed last year. The change is scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 30. Depending on the results, other states may pass similar laws. If the federal government supports the new BAC limit, it may offer incentives to states that comply. The goal of lowering the BAC limit is to increase driver safety. There are a couple of reasons why it may instead increase the criminalization of drivers:
- Inexact Number: A 0.08 BAC level is an attempt to create an objective measurement of when someone’s alcohol consumption has impaired his or her driving. It is the best estimate but not an exact line for everyone. Some drivers show no signs of impairment when their BAC is greater than 0.08, let alone 0.05. Lowering the BAC limit increases the number of people who are driving illegally, but not the number of dangerous drivers.
- Lower Threshold: How easy is it to have a BAC of 0.05? It may take only one drink for a woman weighing 120 pounds. She may be able to drive home without drawing police attention if her driving shows no signs of impairment. However, a routine police stop or sobriety checkpoint may allow a police officer to notice the smell of alcohol on her breath. With a 0.05 BAC limit, there is an increased chance that a BAC test will result in an arrest.
- Unfit Punishment: Though Utah lowered its BAC limit, it has not changed its penalties for a DUI conviction. An advisory council dismissed a suggestion that a lesser punishment should be created for drivers with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08. There is some debate about whether having a 0.05 BAC impairs a driver more than using a phone while driving. A first-time distracted driving offense may result in a fine of $100 or less. A first-time DWI offense may result in thousands of dollars in fines and jail time.