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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


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.

Tweets From During The Show

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  • Al_Kidder

    The focus on a measurable factor, ie blood or breath alcohol content ignores lots of other driver problems. 0.05% is too low for otherwise unimpaired and undistracted drivers.
    A parent with a couple of brats playing up in the car, maybe taking a ‘phone call and on anti depressants is just as dangerous, if not more, than a regular drinker making his way home after a couple of drinks.
    But that driver is being saved from the danger of all us moderate drinkers on the road

  • Fiscally_Responsible

    Given the number of traffic-related fatalities (usually the innocent person who the drunk driver hits), we should absolutely reduce the legal limit to .05% or lower.  This one is a no-brainer. Those who are convicted of drunk driving should have spend significant time in prison (one year in jail at hard labor for the first offense, two years in jail at hard labor for their second offense), so that they think twice about recommitting their crime and putting other lives at risk. This is a totally preventable crime, if we have the backbone to deal with it decisively.

    • http://www.facebook.com/scott.garvey.77 Scott Garvey

       you are an idiot

      • Al_Kidder

         To me, given the name attached, it looks like a send up of right wing nutcases

  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    No it is not a no-brainer ! This is just another attempt for busy-bodies to impose their views on others. I quit drinking some 15 years ago because of the garbage put out by groups like AA, Mothers Against Drunk driving and the government, in general. Since when do we label citizens as criminals because there is a probability that they MIGHT do harm to someone or something ? Statistically, minorities create more crimes than others. Should we arrest minorities in advance of any possible crimes ? When “something” actually happens, then arrest. The time is coming when DNA analysis or brain analysis, or sophisticated data mining or, who knows what, will show that YOU too have measurable failings. Why not turn yourself into the law this morning and save us all the trouble. Ben Franklin once said, “Mind Your Business”. I wish he would have added ‘And Mind Your * Own Business’.

    • Fiscally_Responsible

      So do you wait until a drunk driver kills someone first?  If you are driving in an impaired state, which happens at a lower blood alcohol level, it is no longer “your own business” because you have now put every other driver who is driving in the local area at risk.  Now it’s my business, and I am all in favor of throwing the book at you BEFORE you kill or permanently injure someone else and ruin their life.

  • Jasoturner

    I’m an empiricist.  Until someone gives me exactly enough alcohol to reach the legal limit so I can evaluate my impairment (if any), I don’t have a basis on which to call this one way or another.

    I do suspect, however, that the majority of drunk driving accidents don’t happen often with people at the legal limit, but rather to people who are much over the legal limit.  Which means that the BAC “floor” is not going to have an effect on this cohort whether it’s 0.08% or 0.05%.

  • John Cedar

    The US should not have the authority to change the DWI laws. It should be left up to the states and extorting the states into changing laws via highway funds or any funds, should have been deemed unconstitutional.

    There is little science or facts available to make an informed decision, so one has to resort to personal experience. We know that “alcohol was a factor” in every accident, even though it was a factor of unity. Hell, those dishonest advocates even count it as a DWI when the pedestrian was drunk.

    We also know that even after drinking 6-10 beers, I can drive better than most of y’all can sober. So my breath is not an indicator of inability, just impairment.

    We know that the biggest problem with DWI is not the impairment of motor skills, vision or coordination, but rather falling asleep while driving. So maybe the whole thing could largely be fixed by mandating caffeine in beer.

  • donniethebrasco

    Why not 0.01%?  What is the reason for the change?

    Has there been any tests?

    If the law has to change, they should have a two tier system.  If you are below 0.08% but over 0.05%, then you should get a ticket, but no points, no record.

    If you are over 0.08%, but not over 0.16%, then you get a DUI.

    If you are over 0.16%, you should be shot on the spot.

    • BHA_in_Vermont

       There has to be some > 0 level. Lots of  cough and cold medicines have alcohol in them. Certainly not the kind of thing one drinks heavily but it would put a trace in your BAC.

  • donniethebrasco

    Driving is getting safer.

    People are driving 80MPH on the highway, but it is illegal to drive over 65 or 70.  There are fewer and fewer fatalities and accidents, but the laws don’t change.

    Stop the insanity.

    The drinking age should be lowered to 18.

    The busybodies, do nothing fun people are running amok.  Let’s stop them before they reintroduce the 18th amendment.

  • Shag_Wevera

    Why .05?  Why not zero?  Is this about safety or revenue and the corrections industry?

  • madnomad554

    I was rescue squad for about fours years, from around 97′ to 01′. I would have been the guy to show up with the jaws of life, basically a 90lb hydraulic can opener used to rip your car apart, after you test the mighty oak or cross the center line and kill your fellow citizen.

    For those who feel lowering the limit is unjustified, you should try pulling a dead two year old from a mangled car or take a look at the 17 year old prom queen crushed alive after being t-boned by an impaired driver. I’ve done both and after four years and around 1500 rescue calls, I’ve seen and done even worse.

    Scramble out of bed at 2AM, especially on Friday or Saturday night and go scrape a decapitation or disembowelment off the street. If that wasn’t enough, now there’s texting and rampant cell phone use upping the ante.

    Driving is a privilege not a right. Respect it every time you get behind the wheel. It is your responsibility to maintain control of your 5000lb moving object. If you want to get blasted or buzzed in your own house that’s fine, but the road is public space…shared space. Stop texting, smearing on lipstick, eating Big Macs and most of all stop drinking while driving.

    Take your pick…do you want a dead spouse or a lower limit?        

    • Shag_Wevera

      Anecdotes don’t win an argument.  Sorry for your gruesome memories, but intrusive and inneffective legislation doesn’t fix anything.

      • madnomad554

        Intrusive??? I think a 5000lb vehicle is whats intrusive, especially when it rips both your legs off.

        Legislation won’t completely fix the problem, but neither will selfish, pompous drivers and attitudes.

        It would be naive for me to think the other driver gives a rats ass about me while I’m on the road, but if the other driver doesn’t respect their own health and welfare enough to not drink and drive, then I shall plant more roadside oak trees.    

    • nj_v2

      Thanks for your work, and, yes, these kinds of events are tragic. 

      But none of what you post addresses the issue(s) of how to measure impairment, if blood alcohol level is or should be the appropriate (or only) measure of impairment, and, if so, what it should be.

      • madnomad554

         Well I don’t suggest that we can prevent every person who chooses to consume alcohol, to do so in such a way as to prevent themselves from becoming impaired. That’s not realistic.

        Since we have mandatory jury duty, maybe we should have mandatory rescue duty, especially for those who have been charged with drunk driving. Lat the drunks pick up some brains and intestines for about 90 days.

        Maybe a few soccer moms could see the end result up close and personal. If the average drinking citizen isn’t going to self regulate and stop at no more than two drinks, then there is no answer. But I would think scooping up the brain matter of a five year old, would go along way to sway many to rethink.

        Mandatory rescue duty 


    Well if you make drunk driving criminal,
    then only criminals will drink and drive. *derrrr*

  • Markus6

    Before we go into all the horror stories about drinking and driving, let’s have a few facts.

    How impaired is someone who blows a .05? I see what is said above, but there must be a gazillion studies on this. 

    How much alcohol does it take to get to .05? I know this varies based on body mass and duration, but there must be some general rules of thumb. I read that the average male can drink two “standard drinks” in the first hour and 1 each hour after that to stay under .05. I know nothing about the source, so don’t trust me on this. However, if this is largely true, it seems like a pretty reasonable number.

    My worry is that this decision will be based on horrific anecdotes rather than data. Or that the winning argument will be something like if it just saves one person, it’s worth it. You’d be horrified at how much you’d need to give up if these arguments were applied generally. 

    And a bit off topic, but does pot have the same effect as alcohol?

    • nj_v2

      According to a couple of online BAC calculators i checked, you appear to be roughly correct about the relationship between the number of drinks and BAC.

  • OnPointComments

    “The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.”  –Albert Camus
    Why would the NTSB spend its time going after those who account for fewer than 1% of highway deaths (those with a blood alcohol level between 0.05% and 0.08%), instead of devising more effective methods to target the truly dangerous drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes who average .16 blood alcohol level, more than twice the current legal threshold?  Yet another example of government overreach.

    • dust truck

      exactly! Typical government problem where they can’t enforce the laws that are ALREADY in the books.  Instead they just waste their time making new laws.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

    The BAC limit is already too low: the vast majority of traffic deaths resulting from alcohol are committed by people driving rip-roaring drunk. There is substantial evidence that people who are slightly impaired are actually safer drivers than sober people because they pay much closer attention to how they are driving, and drive much more conservatively.

    Personally, I hope this all becomes irrelevant: once Google gives us self-driving cars, I can head out, get loaded up, and let my car drive me home safely. With any luck, in 30 years we’ll have to tell our kids what “DWI” means when they read it in a book.

  • ToyYoda

    Why can’t we develop a better method for testing impairment in general?  So for example, a trooper could have a suspected driver play a sort of ‘game console’ which tests reaction times, attention span, and coordination, etc, and calculates an impairment rating.

    In this manner, people who can handle a high levels of alcohol won’t have to be erroneously jailed.  People who just shouldn’t be on the road will be (eventually) caught; whether they are drunk (or not), drugged (or not), or just scatter brained clumsy.

    This way, we don’t have to have a debate on alcohol levels.  Reps will be happy because the alcohol industry will be left alone.  Dems will be happy because the roads are safer.  And libertarians will be happy because cops won’t be putting tubes in peoples mouths probing what they drank.


    • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

      “So for example, a trooper could have a suspected driver play a sort of ‘game console’ which tests reaction times, attention span, and coordination, etc, and calculates an impairment rating.”

      This is a good idea because it would also get old people who are no longer physically capable of driving off the road.

  • Jim

    American teenagers are some of the most immature age group in the world. Base on the cultural background in this country and how Americans neglect disciplining their kids, I highly advise the public to increase the drinking age limit to 25. Even then, many of these Americans have trouble growing up. One of my business partner was surprise to hear that i prefer to rent my apartments to non-US students. well, if he manages the apartments with immature Americans who are inconsiderate, don’t know how to behave, and purposely destroy things… maybe he will understand. with regards to the last part, they will not do that to their parent’s home… i wonder why? plus like all things with this country,  American parents refuse to take any responsibility for their kids infraction. 

    thus, maybe increasing the age limit for alcohol might be more prudent than decreasing it… i want safety on the road.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

      Neoprohibitionists, please go away. Drinking is not the problematic behavior here: it’s the combination of drinking *and driving* that is the problem, so address that without telling others how to live their lives peaceably.

      An alternative proposal: keep laws against drunk driving, but eliminate the drinking age and let families decide when and how kids should be able to drink.

      • Jim

        listen immature soul. i think you should go away if you do not like free discussion.. i suggest you go to those conservative talk show that shout at each other.

    • J__o__h__n

      Raise the driving age to 30.

    • WorriedfortheCountry

      Since in your view the young are so immature we should allow them to vote?

      How about all those ‘young’ soldiers using heavy weapons?

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    “At the .05 BAC level, people begin to exhibit exaggerated behavior,
    experience loss of small-muscle control — such as being able to focus
    their eyes quickly — have impaired judgment, lowered alertness and a
    release of inhibition.”


  • J__o__h__n

    Why don’t the rich drinking enthusiasts hire drivers? 

  • MarkVII88

    I think that what’s really necessary is a uniform, common-sense policy towards driving safety.  There is already a law in-place dictating the illegal BAC threshold.  Perhaps in addition to this existing law, all states should pass and enforce laws requiring hands-free cell phones and prohibiting texting behind the wheel.  In addition, licensed drivers should be subject to re-certification every 5 years with no automatic renewals.  This will help inexperienced drivers learn the skills needed to drive safely and will take drivers who’ve lost those skills off the roads.

  • WorriedfortheCountry

    Incredible.  More nonsense from the nanny state/ police state industry.

    It is clear from news reports that repeat offenses from true drunks is a real problem.  Why not work on the real problem instead of harassing the citizenry?

    • jefe68

      Do you support any levels for DWI?

      • WorriedfortheCountry

        If you must know I was OK with .1 and wasn’t too troubled with the change to .08.

    • Labropotes

      I’m with you.  The guy started the program saying that the move from 0.08 to 0.05 was “rhetorical.”  He said if they hadn’t proposed it, we wouldn’t be talking about this right now!  As if deciding to label someone a criminal was just a flourish in a larger argument. 

  • Yar

    No alcohol should be allowed in the system of the driver. Don’t drink and drive.  If alcohol prices included the all the costs of drunk driving how much higher would it be?
    Every accident should require a blood test on all of the drivers involved.When convicted of drunk driving, you should lose your car. The car should be forfeited for drunk driving or for refusing to take a sobriety test, even if the driver doesn’t own the vehicle, and one year of a suspended license with electronic ankle monitor and no alcohol use allowed while serving the drunk driving suspension. Does this sound to severe? Why?What is the value of a person killed by a drunk driver? 

    • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

      If such a forfeiture law is ever put in place, I hope your car gets stolen by a drunk driver.

      • Yar

        Just add the stolen by a drunk driver coverage to the insurance policy.  Why are you so full of hate?

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Air bags have reduced deaths since 1995, but cell phone use and texting while driving have become rampant… Driving while distracted has killed many people in the past 20 years so my question is what percentage of the 10,000 deaths a year are now due to smart phone zombies?

  • tas

    If the government is concerned with taking drunk drivers off the road, they should invest in decent public transportation available at all hours of the night.  Such an investment would take drunk drivers off the road in Boston, where the MBTA closes at 12:30am yet bars close at 2:00am and a cab ride home averages $40-50.

    But lowering the BAC to 0.05 means waiting at the restaurant or bar for an hour after consuming a beer.  A single beer doesn’t impair most anyone’s ability to drive, so making the level 0.05 sounds more like an attempt by law enforcement and municipalities to generate income instead of keep the public safe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/walker.mallory Walker Mallory

    Let’s focus on improving public transportation in our cities so that people can get from the bars to their homes safely. Bike stations, buses, trolleys, etc.

  • kevinc51

    Come on now… every body knows this is more about feeding lawyers than
    making the roadways safer. If politicians were really concerned about
    road safety… they would do something about older drivers… who are
    far more dangerous than someone with two drinks in them.

    But of course… these older drivers vote… and politicians don’t want to step on their toes.

  • Bill98

    Pure nonsense.  Hundreds of lives would NOT be saved because people with a BAC of .05 don’t kill anyone!  Those advocating this are members of the 21st century’s Temperance League.  They should just admit that they either benefit financially from these laws, or that their true goal is to re-introduce prohibition.

  • Trudie

    I have stopped going out…I stay at home where I can smoke and drink, going out is no fun anymore…

    • brettearle

      I know what you mean, all too well.

  • rightfromwrong

    EXACTLY!  This caller has it exactly right.  Deaths will go down (significantly and efficiently) when we keep truly DRUNK drivers off the road – the ones who have ALREADY had repeat, multiple offenses, but there are hard-to-implement measures.  We need to focus our energies here (special locks and STRONGER penalties for repeat offenders) – not just “include” these meaningful measures in a lazy, broad net approach focused on responsible drinkers.

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    I really doubt 1 less drink will “end social life as we know it”.

    How about we back out a little and see the stats on the number of accidents and the damage caused at .05 vs .08. In reality, very few drunks actually kill someone.

    • JJT123

      Very good point. Although we should also consider hospitalization of victims and the drunk driver as well. If emergency response has to be sent and traffic is interrupted, there is a societal cost being invoked.

  • J__o__h__n

    I think harsher penalties for repeat offenders makes more sense.  I’m more worried about drivers talking on their cellphones and even worse texting.  The general public no longer thinks it is acceptable to drive drunk. 

  • Bill98

    Sure, great idea.  And, while you are at it, ban people from driving if they are tired or in a bad mood.  We should only be allowed to drive when we are 100%, which is about 5 minutes in any given day…good idea, REAL good idea…

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.garvey.77 Scott Garvey

          I am amazed at the progression of this country . It is like living in a North Korean reeducation camp . Why don’t we just go back to prohibition and eliminate all bars , restaurants , breweries , vineyards ,  and alcohol in general while we are at it !
         Lets really see what this is about  MONEY ! Everybody makes it off this . The police get grants for the OT while setting up road blocks,,which are unconstitutional  .  The insurance company makes it back by jacking up the rates . The state makes it back by the court system fines . The DUI schools make it back by class cost .  it just keeps going . The NTSB has a fanatic who recommends this and so the country destroys an entire industry .
           I see the commercial with cops coming out of the wall and plants and  I think my God , we are Russia ! Talk about state sponsored terrorism,,terrify the public to be afraid of everything…Lets all move to Russia..at least they admit they are a dictatorship .  People who defend road blocks and this law are the ones who 200 years ago would justify the British taxxing us because it is for our own good . The Horror…the horror…

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Russell/100000367073281 Mark Russell

      Sorry Scott, but I don’t want you to be able drive drunk without any consequences.  Many Western industrialized countries aggressively police the use of alcohol and those societies are safer because of it.

      That’s not a dictatorship, it’s simple community safety.

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    OK, so the driver in the Witherspoon case was at .14. What we heard was Reese. What was HER bac to be behaving like that? 

    • WorriedfortheCountry

      She could have been sober for all we know.

      She was behaving like a typical Hollywood elite.

      “Do you know who I am?”

      • BHA_in_Vermont

         Obviously I don’t know her, and I don’t follow celebs anyway but you can’t help but hear the same names over and over (Lindsey Lohan anyone?)

        I don’t think Reese has a reputation as a “bad attitude girl”. I rather doubt she would have gone off like that if she were not impaired.

        Any celeb follower is welcome to correct me if I’m wrong. :)

        • WorriedfortheCountry

          Well, she was contrite; AFTER she was caught on video.

          Maybe that’s better than most?

          • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

            Maybe that’s just her managing her image? Don’t know her, don’t care. That’s between her and the court of public opinion.

    • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

      Was BAC a factor for her… Even at zero she’d be guilty of DWE – driving while entitled.

  • PassinThru

    Ask Dr. Lerner how many of those families of victims lost loved ones to drunk drivers at less than .08.

  • rightfromwrong

    I am incensed by your “expert” diverting the discussion:  because many states do not use effective measures like interlock (for repeat offenders) then we should lower the limit for EVERYONE!

    • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

      And *he’s* the one who accused others of employing straw man arguments. Laaaaame.

  • rightfromwrong

    Seriously, I JUST got it.  Make us ALL feel the fear, so that we will then put more pressure on our rulemakers to focus on the real problem.  That is un-American.  That is what parents do to keep their children in line.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Russell/100000367073281 Mark Russell

    I am in favor of putting an alcohol sensitive ignition system in any car that I drive even though I have never been convicted or stopped for drunk driving.  By so doing I hope I could get an insurance cost reduction.

    We should effectively have zero tolerance for alcohol in any driver’s system.

    I know that any alcohol in my system begins to compromise my judgement.  Anyone who doesn’t think that is just kidding themselves.

  • MoiraMone

    No offense to the guest representing the American Beverage Assn. (she is just doing her job), but a lobbying group on behalf of the Alcohol producers/distributors of this country should not be a part of this conversation. They are not in the business of supporting public health; they have ONE interest, which is to keep more people drinking alcohol as often as possible.
    I am fully in support of the criminalization of Bad Behavior!!!

    • WorriedfortheCountry

       And the good Dr. is interested in sell in selling more books.  Should he be on the show?

      Of course.

  • J__o__h__n

    Why does he bring up the worst state laws as a defense for lowering the level?  If they aren’t enforcing the current level, how would them not enforcing a lower limit make any difference?  Surely fixing the lax laws makes much more sense than lowering the level. 

  • syedm

    I have family and numerous friends froinm Europe! They have a lower legal limit, and have a much more thriving alcohol culture. A stupid argument to say “social life will be destroyed”. Americans believe any control is the end of the world. Just like background checks!

  • JJT123

    If this is coupled with funding of an NTSB initiative to build European style public transit throughout this country, go for it! Drunks on buses and trains, Wo0T!!

  • Yar

    We need an education campaign around impairment and distraction.  If you have even just one drink you should turn off the radio the cell phone and not drive distracted.  Drugs are part of the problem as well, it is the mix of distractions and impairment that causes most accidents. 

  • JJT123

    I don’t care what the average BAC is for accidents where alcohol was a factor. Give us the 2-standard-deviation range wherein we can expect 95% of these to occur. Then we can talk about a meaningful floor.

  • nj_v2

    Biggest cause of vehicle fatalities? Crappy roadway infrastructure:


    STUDY: Majority of highway fatalities caused by deficient road conditions

    Yet, the same group that did that study (PIRE, just mentioned by one of the guests) supports lowering the BAC limit:


    CALVERTON, MD – Researchers at Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) say that the recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) today to lower the illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for driving from .08 to .05 in states has a strong evidence-based foundation. Most industrialized nations have already enacted a .05 illegal BAC limit. A review of the literature by PIRE researchers examines the effects of various BACs on driving and crashes. The review reveals important reasons why a .05 illegal BAC limit is a sound strategy.

    “There is clear, solid, scientific evidence that lowering the illegal BAC limit to .05 is a strategy that states should strongly consider” said James Fell, a PIRE researcher. He points to laboratory evidence showing that most subjects are significantly impaired at .05 BAC (Ferrara, Zancaner, & Georgetti, 1994; Moskowitz & Fiorentino, 2000; Moskowitz, Burns, Fiorentino, Smiley, & Zador, 2000). Drivers with .05 to .07 BACs are also much more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than drivers who haven’t been drinking (Voas, et al., 2012).  The review was co-authored with Robert Voas, Ph.D., a PIRE senior research scientist. The researchers’ rationale is described in the following paragraphs. 


  • donniethebrasco

    How will anyone get to Congress to vote?

    • jefe68

      Will they be over the limit when they do?

    • Steve__T

       Make sure Pres. Obama has no opinion or interest on the subject.

    • Labropotes

      Most laws have an exception for Congress.

  • MarkVII88

    I think these ignition interlocks are a great idea.  How can we ensure that these problem drinkers don’t just get their buddy to activate the car so they can go drive drunk again.  Do these interlocks have thumbprint security or other biometric features?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1701142121 George Shute

      Hope you’re never use mouthwash right before you get in your car. You’ll need to wait 15-20 minutes after using mouthwash before you will be able to blow below 0.02.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

    The first guest is deflecting the audience away from the right question. The question is not, “Do these people have inferior reaction times/steering or braking ability?” The question is, DO THESE PEOPLE CAUSE ACCIDENTS? If .05-.08 BAC people don’t cause accidents, this is nothing more than neoprohibitionism.

  • 65noname

    why is our money, thru donations and government subsidies to government radio, being used to provide the paid spokesperson for the alcohol industry an opportunity to argue against blood level limits in drivers? 

    The alcohol industry will never agree to anything that limit the amount of alcohol being consumed.  It only cares about selling more alcohol.

    There are plenty of people and organizations that oppose the lower limits without turning this into an opportunity for the alcohol industry to spew its propaganda.

    But, that’s government radio for you!!!  Whether its on political or business issues, presenting people who are paid to spin and advocare for a particular point of view no matter the facts.

    • donniethebrasco

       Really?  you feel that this has been a biased show.  I have found it to be a fairly open discussion.

      • 65noname

        I think what I said. Whether or not there was an unbiased speaker also on the program, this show in particular and government radio in general uses too many so-called analysts who are actually professionals who are being paid to spin out a particular position.

        If there are people out there who have come to an honest opinion against lowering the BAC levels, have them as guests.  If AAA is truly aagainst the the lowering, have a AAA person.  When the alcohol spin dudette, or the equivilent on other shows, you’re not getting a real philosophical discussion; you’re getting the best spin that $$ can buy.

  • Labropotes

    How about this: you can drive drunk, say up to 0.15, at 20 mph under speed limit with your hazard lights flashing.

  • PassinThru

    I have to agree with Kyle.  Dr. Lerner has not made a convincing argument that this is not a solution in search of a problem.

  • just_sayin22

    Alcoholism is a disease not a crime. Rather than jailing these individuals the focus should be on healing the disease. That would be better for society. The US already jails a greater percentage of the population than other countries. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1701142121 George Shute

      We have more people incarcerated in prison (6.977 million in 2011) than there is population in Paraguay (6.672 million in 2012).

    • Tyranipocrit

      tell that littel susie 3 year old who is dead because of the weak  criminal drunks on the road who want their bloody rights.

  • cidcorman

    as a waiter for over 30 years I Know how much people drink and it is often ….very often …. too much 
    The Industry Reps howled when the smoking ban  was proposed and said exactly the same thing …. ie that the ban would ruin  business.
    It actually increased business  
    all this will do is raise an awareness of the Limit.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1701142121 George Shute

      I’ve heard this “smoking ban increased business” line numerous times, but it’s not as clean cut as so many make it out to be. The smoking ban has hurt some businesses. Particularly Bingo halls and places that mostly sell alcohol. A few places noticed upticks in food sales, but they still have a decline in alcohol sales and most are only seeing a minor to modest uptick in sales.

      “The first year, we lost 38 percent of our business,” said Barry Gregory, owner of Crehan’s Irish Pub in Belleville. “And we never recovered.”

      • Tyranipocrit

        you are in the business of alcholism and drunk driving–and you are complaining!  i would to go to your pub and spend my entire salary but I dont because the f-er next me with the chemical stick hanging out of his greasy mouth

    • Tyranipocrit

      xellent and true comment.  No one ever considers or cares about ALL those people who choos enot to go to restaurants and bars because of the f-ing smoke.

  • Steve__T

    I know a lot of people that don’t need a drink to drive badly they do it constantly purposely and just don’t give a damn.

    • Tyranipocrit

      and they will be or should be arrested for different crimes.  Whats your point?

  • WorriedfortheCountry

    The good Dr. sounds like he could be drinking buddies with Nanny Bloomberg.

    Did he really say he likes the proposal to lower BAC  just to get the safety issue into the news?  That isn’t how you do policy.  Capriciousness on steroids.

  • donniethebrasco

    Freedom just another word for what the busybodies want to take away from you.

    Someone is enjoying themselves, lets get ‘em.

  • majorml

    The beverage industry spokesperson says that ignition locks are the best answer. Are they spending money to promote legislation in the 32 states that do not have it?  If so, how does that budget compare to the budget to fight the change for .08 to .05?

    • J__o__h__n

      They appear to be offering a solution to the problem.  When has the NRA backed trigger locks or said that any limit was reasonable?

  • donniethebrasco

    If you are a Kennedy, these rules don’t apply to you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000093760058 Holly B. Anderson

      Because they’re all dead, except Caroline, and she has a new last name.

  • Bill98

    Tom’s bias is showing.  I can’t help but notice that most of the calls he has taken and comments that he has read have been in favor of lowering the limit.  And yet, most of the comments that I see here are opposed.  I find his lack of objectivity disappointing.

    • Tyranipocrit

      i am not opposed.  This comment section hardly has a reputation for sanity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peterboyle.4848 Peter Boyle

    A few drunks are the cause of the problem.  Statistically, if any alcohol is present it is chalked up as the cause (alcohol involved).  DWI has become an industry in the US.  It costs you thousands of dollars if you are caught.  The problem is that most people can have a drink or three after work or at dinner and drive just fine.  The Jihadists want total abstinance, and we already repealed Prohibition.  Outside cities (where public transportation is available) the only option is to drive.  Let’s limit  speed at the factory, no vehicle can go faster than 70.  That would save more lives that this silly change in the law.  How about REAL driving tests instead of the easy one we now have.   

    • BHA_in_Vermont

       “A few drunks are the cause of the problem.”

      You can replace “drunks” with “people”.  The 99% that are not causing trouble will always be governed by laws needed to restrict the few.

      “Let’s limit speed at the factory, no vehicle can go faster than 70. 
      That would save more lives than this silly change in the law.”

       You KNOW the civil liberties people would stomp that down in an instant.

  • donniethebrasco

    Cheech and Chong never got into an accident.

  • donniethebrasco

    I can see someone drinking in their backyard.

    I am calling the cops.

  • Redhedgurrl

    Apologies for duplicate.

    • donniethebrasco

       The problem is when impairment occurs.

      Is it after 1 drink, 2 drinks, 0.05% BAC, 0.08% BAC, or 0.1% BAC?

      Are people impaired differently?  Are you impaired at 0.12% and I am impaired at 0.03%?

      • rightfromwrong

        You are right on donnie, which is why it is MUCH smarter and more effective (in reducing deaths) to measure reaction time (“impairment in driving).  But this isn’t really about reducing deaths, it’s about restricting drinking and driving, and about changing the current culture which accepts that alcohol use does not automatically and immediately impair driving function to the point where the driver is unsafe and at risk of killing someone.  There has been sufficient research (and testing) to develop a universal, accurate, and non-discriminatory “reaction time” test, but it would no doubt scoop up lots of sober drivers whose baseline reaction time makes them “an accident waiting to happen”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peterboyle.4848 Peter Boyle

    The problem with the ‘nanogram limit’ is that marijuana is stored in the fat cells and is detectable at nano levels up to 3 months AFTER smoking a joint.  I would far rather jail those who can not understand the simple concept of “Keep Right Except To Pass”.  Some studies show that marijuana smokers are SAFER drivers than those who are angry or using a cell phone.  What is with this move to protect everyone?  We can not protect everyone from every danger.  If you have an accident while under the influence of any drug (marijuana, prescription drugs, alcohol, psychoactive drugs, etc) you go to jail, otherwise leave people alone to enjoy life as best they can in today’s America (where it is getting harder to enjoy yourself without government intrusion).

    • donniethebrasco


      I can’t stand the morons doing 60 in the center and middle lanes, while the right lane is completely empty.

      Then, you have people passing in the right lane.

      • BHA_in_Vermont

        What is the speed limit?

        And how is the person in the center lane supposed to move to the right when everyone is passing on the right rather than allowing the “slow” driver to pull over once there is REASONABLE space. Not eveyone is a stock car driver comfortable with 1 foot between them and the car they are behind.

        I live in Vermont (kinda obvious from the name). I/89 is a 2 lane interstate. You are supposed to be in the left lane at “weaving lane interchanges” (*) so you are not obstructing those vehicles. GOOD LUCK trying to get back in the right lane once you’ve passed the on ramp beyond the weaving lane if you aren’t speeding to the satisfaction of the other drivers. 

        (*) Interchanges where those getting on have to cross in a shared lane with those getting off.

      • brettearle

        Are you forgetting the Morons who tailgate in the right lane, and don’t pass the drivers, who are going the speed limit or even 5-10 miles above the speed limit?

        Happens all the time.

    • donniethebrasco

       But its not fair that the people who have 1 beer, have an accident and get arrested, but someone else has 16 beers and doesn’t have an accident doesn’t get arrested.

      What’s that saying, “Life isn’t fair.”

      I agree with you.

    • brettearle

      If people were to go to jail for being in an accident, while driving under the influence of prescription drugs, the government would have to enlist–by compulsory act–thousands of men and women, across the country, to build more prisons……Immediately.

  • Steve__T

    There are statistics on MJ and driving made by

    You may be surprised at the out come.


  • homebuilding

    There are MANY impairments that extend the reaction time and impair judgment.

    The breathaliyzer gives a number to the ethanol in the instruments tube–a 1/4 teaspoon of most cough syrups or a recent swallow of Listerene or most mouthwashes will lead to a DUI

    Some universal screening of reaction time impairment needs to be implemented, immediately–a ‘surprise’ drop of a yardstick is good enough and cheap enough–we’ve spent NO time developing cheap roadside tests for this.  But they’d catch fatigue, RX and non-RX drugs–anything that would make it take longer for you to steer or hit the brakes.

    See Dr. Stephen Lord of the University of New South Wales whose group has done CONSIDERABLE work on this topic

    Of course, the police/medical/lawyer/prison industrial complex will make certain that only expensive, midicalized, and punishment ‘fixes’ will be considered.

    • brettearle

      People, naturally, have different reaction times–without artificial inducements.

      Gender and weight difference–in terms of actual inebriation–will often vary. 

      As F. Lee Bailey, once said, these instruments can be preset and are periodically defective.

      The entire problem is fraught with potential violation of civil liberties.

      And yet I know people who have been killed by drunk drivers, or alleged drunk drivers.

      So, like many, perhaps, I am quite divided on the issue.

  • bdmsb

    I’m used to you being scrupulously fair and honest. I don’t understand why you keep talking about Reese Witherspoon who may have been drunk, but was not driving. As far as I know, she had no breathalyzer test at all. Being full of yourself is not a crime.

  • bdmsb

    I’m used to you being scrupulously fair and honest. I don’t understand why you keep talking about Reese Witherspoon who may have been drunk, but was not driving. As far as I know, she had no breathalyzer test at all. Being full of yourself is not a crime.

  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    How many accidents are caused by overworked and overly tired drivers ? If you want to create a law that is truly needed, then support random drug and alcohol screening for all elected officials.

  • Sean Smith

    This is crazy. 08 is already very low and the benefits are tapering off. Dr. Lerner said he isn’t trying to legislate to the edge cases regarding smaller women, but that seems like all he is doing – handling a segment that is not causing the issue. Drinking a couple of beers an hour is fine for most people so let them relax in this stressful world without the scarlet letters. The deaths are terrible but there has to be a limit at some point. Reducing the speed limit to 10mph would solve the problem, maybe that is next.

  • Sean Smith

    This is crazy. 08 is already very low and the benefits are tapering off. Dr. Lerner said he isn’t trying to legislate to the edge cases regarding smaller women, but that seems like all he is doing – handling a segment that is not causing the issue. Drinking a couple of beers an hour is fine for most people so let them relax in this stressful world without the scarlet letters. The deaths are terrible but there has to be a limit at some point. Reducing the speed limit to 10mph would solve the problem, maybe that is next.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1701142121 George Shute

    Probably because 0.08-0.1 BAC is perfectly reasonable. It’s not until after 0.10 that most people begin to have slowed reflexes and reaction time. Even then, some people don’t show noticeable degradation until 0.14%.

    MADD and others want to drop the limit to 0.02. For 0.02 BAC, a person who weighs under 160 lbs will be positive after one drink for the duration of 1 to 1.5 hours after finishing their drink. Keep in mind, 1 drink is considered 1.5 oz of 40% (80 proof) liquor, 6 oz of 12% wine, or 12oz of 5% beer. If you are a female and weigh under 120 lbs, you would be at 0.04-0.05 after just one drink.

    Statistically, drunk driving fatalities (and driving fatalities in general) have been precipitously dropping for decades. In 1982, according to the NHTSA, 60% of driving fatalities were attributed to drunk driving. In 2011, only 38% were attributed to drunk driving.

    There is also the issue that, if there were mandatory ignition locks, you would have to wait 20 minutes after using mouthwash to start your car. Within the first minute, you will blow 0.20. After 15 minutes, it is still possible to blow 0.04 or above. After 20 minutes, it should drop to 0.01 or below. So, if you were to have an ignition interlock, then you’d better hope you’re never gargling mouthwash on your way out the door rushing to work, because you’re not going to be going ANYWHERE for at least 15 minutes. Then there’s the problem of what to do with all the older cars that don’t have ignition interlocks. Do you do tax credits to reimburse people to have them installed? What about when they break?

    Also, it’s nice to say, “get a DD,” or, “use public transportation,” but that’s not always as easily done as said. Not to mention that, even according to the stats, hardcore drinkers are the ones mostly responsible. As in, people who are getting hammered way above the 0.08 BAC limit. So you’re basically harassing and making it more difficult for the people who are drinking responsibly, while doing little to curb the hardcore drinkers that are the ones causing most of the problems. You’re simply adding more people into the guilty-pool without actually fixing the underlying problem.

    IMO, we need to get over the stigma of alcohol. Let teenagers be able to drink (with parental oversight and permission) at 16, and buy alcohol at 18. Have zero-tolerance BAC limit for those under 21. After 21, you can go up to 0.08. This way kids will be over the taboo of illegally drinking and they will have learned how to better handle drinking.

  • Tyranipocrit

    since when did social life have to include drunk driving?  I love to go out and drink like anyone else–but i dont meed to drive to do it.  iwill spend more money in a bar–MORE money–if I know my car driver is not drinking and/or my group doesnt have to rely on a driver.

  • Tyranipocrit

    anyone who gets in a car that has had more than two drinks is attempting manslaughter

  • Tyranipocrit

    all cars should have breathalizers in them–like those that drunk drivinf criminals must use–if they blow more than .o5 or .08 depending on State referendums–then the car should not start.  When they sober the ignition will start.  Seems fair and balanced to me–no police resources, no worries.  Drunks will just have to walk the dumb butts.

  • Tyranipocrit

    and use the mass transit system.  dont give me your lame excuses drunkards!  if I had a bar–my bar would have a shuttel service every three hours–when the bus is approximately full–it departs.  I would also have drunk tanks–tiny rooms with a cot for rent–water tanks inside and coffee served in the morning with a hot breakfast.  Come all ye drunks and live but dont drive home.  Stay and party!  Business sky-rockerting!

  • John Cedar

    It would seem we also have a need for breathalyzer interlocks on keyboards.

  • TyroneJ

    While the show did not touch on it, breathalyzer technology, and it’s limitations, is intertwined in this issue.  The dirty little secret of the breathalyzer business is that breathalyzers don’t detect ethanol. The sensor in breathalyzers is in fact a small fuel cell (one of my specialties), and it measures the total amount of combustible vapor mixed in the air blown into it. The assumption is that in a normal healthy human, the dominant combustible vapor in the person’s breath is ethanol. However, there are large numbers of situations in which a breathalizer will give a high blood alcohol reading when in fact the level is zero. For example, if the person has untreated type 1 diabetes, they may be in a state of ketoacidosis which causes the person to have acetone in their breath, which the breathalizer will give as a non-zero blood alcohol level. Just about any situation in which a person breath contains hydrocarbons (as for example, having eaten something with a high amount of certain fragrances) will cause a breathalizer to erroneously give a non-zero blood alcohol reading.

    Anyway, my point is that if you are going to set specifications for imposing penalties, you should first understand how those specifications are measured and the limitations of those measurements.

  • Sy2502

    The problem isn’t, strictly speaking, people who drive drunk, but people who cause accidents. You can be sober, drunk, high, sleepy or emotionally distressed and cause an accident. Or all of the above and get home safely. I say forget the breathalyzer UNLESS you caused an accident. Then if we find out you were intoxicated, we compound the penalty for it.

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