The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released a statement recommending that a national legal alcohol limit be instituted at a level of .05% BAC. This was one of several measures recommended by the NTSB regarding highway safety. Although the NTSB has no legal authority, this may affect ongoing proceedings by giving prosecution experts an added basis to state that their views on alcohol impairment emerging at lower levels has gained general acceptance in the relevant scientific community. Regardless, the position taken by NTSB threatens to impose heavy criminal penalties on people who may drive home from a restaurant, bar, friend’s house, wedding, etc., without any impairment.
It is impossible to say that everyone is impaired at .08%, much less .05%. Society’s hatred of DUI accidents is on a collision course with civil libertarian’s hatred for criminalizing harmless activities in the name of the greater good. It is noted that some European countries have lowered their traffic fatality rates by lowering the BAC level, but one must continue to ask, at what cost? Lives can be ruined, if not ended, by the economic, liberty and personal burdens associated with being rendered a convicted criminal.
The most vocal opponents to this development appear to be from restaurant and bar owners— those who gain the majority of their income from the sale of alcohol to, mostly, those who will end up driving home. While at first glance this may seem to be related to the income they would stand to lose if people became concerned about their ability to drive, there may also be repercussions to their liquor licenses due to the fact that they are responsible for not serving alcohol to individuals who may be impaired. This regulation would label some people as impaired after as little as one drink. Other opposition would come from those who feel as though the government is stepping upon the rights of citizens who are able to handle themselves in accordance with a standard for good driving at a BAC of as a little as .05%. Along the same lines, the shift in the proposed law could be called arbitrary especially due to the fact that there are some in the same “hang’m high” camp who would also claim that driving with any amount of alcohol in one’s system should be unlawful. If one tracks the history of BAC, it has dropped steadily, but incrementally, for the last 30 plus years. Why not just call for a new national standard of .01% instead of, apparently, pandering to the bars, restaurants, liquor lobby, etc. (whose revenues greatly depend on peoples’ acceptance that drinking alcohol while out and about is both legally and socially acceptable)?
If we are going to become Sweden in terms of how we treat drinking and driving, let’s start becoming Sweden in terms of the social services we provide, including first world public transportation. If we were serious about saving lives, we would want to get serious on all levels, not just by threatening our citizens with draconian laws that set out to criminalize what can, in many instances, be harmless conduct.
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