NTSB again recommends enacting a lower legal BAC limit

The NTSB has endorsed a legal limit of .05 percent, which could offer sizable safety benefits; unfortunately, public support for this change may be limited.

Drunk driving accidents have been declining in Mt. Laurel and other parts of New Jersey over the last decade, but sadly, they still take a huge toll on roadway safety. According to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, in 2014 alone, 163 lives were lost in alcohol-related crashes in New Jersey. These deaths accounted for over one in four traffic fatalities that occurred in the state that year. Alarmingly, the same year, over 23,000 people were arrested for driving under the influence.

To address the ongoing threat of impaired driving accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board has recently called for changes to laws in New Jersey and other states. As CNN reports, the organization has endorsed lowering the legal blood alcohol concentration limit from .08 to .05 percent.

Life-saving impacts

The NTSB contends that this change would offer substantial safety benefits because drivers can be dangerously impaired without even exceeding the current legal limit. One study shows that drivers with BAC levels between .05 and .08 percent are three times as likely to be involved in accidents as other drivers. Consequently, the NTSB is recommending a new legal limit of .05 percent or lower.

Other research also suggests that a reduced legal limit could result in fewer severe car accidents, injuries and deaths. U.S. News cites the following statistics:

  • One study indicates that drivers with BAC levels as low as .01 percent can be dangerous. In fatal accidents, these drivers are 46 percent likelier to be considered at fault than the other involved drivers.
  • Drivers with BAC levels of .05 percent are already significantly impaired. They exhibit diminished vision, reaction times and alertness, which could put them at higher risk for accidents.
  • Drivers with the same BAC level are 38 percent more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than sober drivers. The risk of such accidents only rises as BAC level increases.
  • In other countries, reported traffic fatalities dropped between 8 and 18 percent after the legal limit was lowered to .05 percent. In the U.S., this could translate to as many as 2,000 deaths averted each year.

Unfortunately, since the NTSB lacks regulatory authority, state legislatures must decide whether to revise the legal limit. This means that the NTSB's proposal may not be implemented despite the potential benefits.

Likelihood of success

Many lawmakers are hesitant to lower the legal limit due to concerns that it will prove ineffective or penalize drivers excessively, according to New Jersey Advance Media. Groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving have expressed support for other measures, such as widespread ignition interlock use, rather than a new legal limit. Here in New Jersey, lawmakers have worried about unfairly punishing drivers who have had relatively few drinks and, compared to heavily intoxicated drivers, pose less of a threat to other motorists.

Sadly, in the absence of stricter laws or other deterrents, alcohol-related accidents may continue to harm many people in New Jersey this year. Given the catastrophic consequences that these accidents frequently have, injury victims can often benefit from exploring the available legal remedies. An attorney may be able to offer further advice on documenting a drunk driver's negligence and seeking appropriate recompense.