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Should The U.S. Lower The Legal Blood Alcohol Limit?

The campaign to bring down the legal blood alcohol limit for American drivers — and its implications.

Tim Uong takes a Breathalyzer test at “Know Your Limit” in Columbia, Mo., on Friday, April 26, 2013. He says the event helped him learn how much one beer would affect his blood alcohol content level. (Ashleigh Jackson, KOMU News/Flickr)

Tim Uong takes a breathalyzer test at a “Know Your Limit” event in Columbia, Mo., on April 26, 2013. Uong said it helped him learn how much one beer would affect his blood alcohol content level. (Ashleigh Jackson, KOMU News/Flickr)

How much booze should Americans be legally allowed to drink before they drive? The question is on the table again.

Right now, all 50 states have a 0.08 percent blood alcohol limit. Beyond that, if you’re pulled over, you’re busted.

Now the National Transportation Safety Board is calling for that limit to be brought down to 0.05 percent — where most of Europe has it. It’s a no-brainer, says the NTSB. It would save lives.

The American Beverage Institute calls it “ludicrous,” saying it would end American social life as we know it.

Up next On Point: Moving the line on drunk driving.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Bart Jansen, reporter for USA Today. (@ganjansen)

Dr. Barron Lerner, internist and historian of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center and author of “One For The Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900” — read excerpts below.

Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute.

Christopher Dickey, Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor for Newsweek Magazine. (@csdickey)

Kristin Wyatt, reporter for the Associated Press. (@APkristenwyatt)

Show Highlights

From Tom’s Reading List

USA Today: Make DUI Limit 0.05% Blood-Alcohol Level, NTSB Says — “States should reduce the blood-alcohol level that qualifies as drunken driving to 0.05% to reduce fatal crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended Tuesday. The risk of a crash at 0.05% is about half as much as at 0.08%, the limit in all states, according to a safety board report released Tuesday.”

CNN: Tougher Drunk-Driving Threshold Proposed To Reduce Traffic Deaths — “The idea for a tighter standard is part of a safety board initiative outlined in a staff report and approved by the panel to eventually eliminate drunk driving, which accounts for about a third of all road deaths in the United States.”

Reason: Why Government Shouldn’t Lower The BAC Bar For Drunk Driving — “The NTSB is dissatisfied by the rate of progress against drunk-driving deaths. It makes much of the fact that the percentage of traffic deaths involving intoxicated motorists has been stuck at between 30 and 32 since 1995. But that figure masks improvement. Between 1982 and 1994, the total number of people killed in crashes involving a driver who was impaired dropped by 37 percent. In the time since, the figure has declined by 26 percent. Things are getting better — just not as quickly as before.”

Book Excerpts

Book jacket for "One For The Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900" by Barron H. Lerner. (The Johns Hopkins University Press)

(The Johns Hopkins University Press)

Dr. Barron Lerner is the author of “One For The Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900.” You can read the preface and introduction below.

But first, for context, take a look at Lerner’s recent New York Times blog post, “Cracking Down On Drinking And Driving,” in which he argues for the blood alcohol content limit to be lowered to 0.05 percent (down from its current 0.08 percent).

The following excerpts are adapted from “One For The Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900″ by Barron H. Lerner. Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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