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Local agencies respond to NTSB’s call to lower BAC number

By Staff | May 16, 2013

While an independent federal agency is calling for a lower, legal BAC limit nationwide to reduce alcohol-related accidents, local law enforcement agencies question the effectiveness of the change.

On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board released 19 recommendations calling for stronger laws, swifter enforcement and expanded use of technology to “put the country on a course to eliminate alcohol-impaired driving crashes,” according to a prepared statement from the agency.

Each year, nearly 10,000 people are killed nationwide in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers. The NTSB reported that more than 173,000 are injured, with 27,000 sustaining incapacitating injuries.

“Most Americans think that we’ve solved the problem of impaired driving, but in fact, it’s still a national epidemic,” Chairman Deborah Hersman said in the statement. “On average, every hour one person is killed and 20 more are injured.”

One of the recommendations is that all 50 states reduce their BAC – blood alcohol content or concentration – limits from 0.08 to 0.05 or lower. Florida reduced its to 0.08 from 0.10 in 1994.

Research reportedly shows that although impairment begins with the first drink, by 0.05 BAC, most drivers experience a decline in cognitive and visual functions, which can increase the risk for a crash. Currently, more than 100 countries on six continents reportedly have a BAC limit set at 0.05 or less.

“The research clearly shows that drivers with a BAC above 0.05 are impaired and at a significantly greater risk of being involved in a crash where someone is killed or injured,” Hersman stated.

Officials at the Cape Coral Police Department and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office disagreed that changing the law would have a significant impact on DUI-related arrests, injuries and fatalities.

CCPD spokesman Lt. Tony Sizemore explained Thursday that there would not be much of a change in terms of arrests because most of their DUI arrests involve BACs far from the 0.05 to 0.08 range.

“The majority of our DUI arrests, the offenders or arrestees are – most of them – twice the legal limit, two and a half times the legal limit,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of 0.08s now anyway.”

“You’re not going to see a big difference from 0.08 to 0.05,” Sizemore said.

The change to 0.05 could truly come into play in incidents involving accidents with serious bodily injuries, where blood is drawn to determine the BAC of a driver at about the time of the crash.

“That’s probably where you will see your most 0.05s, 0.06s, 0.07s – that new difference, that new gap,” he said.

Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott also voiced uncertainty Thursday about the reduction to 0.05.

“I’m not sure that it’s going to have a noticeable impact on much of anything,” he said.

Scott explained that a breathalyzer test is administered after a person is placed under arrest, and that arrests are not based solely on a person’s BAC. Even those below 0.08 can be charged with DUI.

“They can still be, and are still in most cases, arrested,” he said. “If it reads 0.08, 0.02 or 0.04, they’re still arrested. We don’t turn them loose based on the breathalyzer.”

As for the lower limit reducing injuries and deaths, officials attributed increased awareness.

“The fear of repercussion may be a deterrent,” Sizemore said, adding that authorities would have to publicize what the new limit equates to in terms of alcohol consumption for a man and a woman.

“How does that translate to an average person?” he asked.

According to the Associated Press, a new legal BAC limit of 0.05 would equate to about one drink for a woman weighing less than 120 pounds and about two drinks for a man weighing about 160 pounds.

In most studies, a drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of 80-proof alcohol.

“It might create a more heightened awareness,” Scott said of the change, adding that it may, however, only affect the “responsible and intelligent people” who are concerned about the issue and safety.

“A lot of the people who are drinking and driving are totally without regard for their own safety and the safety of others,” he said. “You could set the limit wherever you want, they’re going to break the law.”

“People who are inclined to do it are still going to,” Scott said of driving under the influence.

For those who try to be responsible with their alcohol consumption by staying within the legal BAC limit, authorities would rather see them not drink and drive at all or keep the drinking to an “absolute minimum.” An absolute minimum would be having one beer or one glass of wine with a full dinner.

“That’s our suggestion – don’t drink and drive at all,” Scott said.

Officials noted that lowering the BAC limit to 0.05 would not have a negative impact.

“It can’t hurt anything, but I don’t think it will dramatically change anything,” he said. “Is it really going to make a noticeable difference? Probably not, but it’s not going to hurt anything either.”

Cape Coral Police Chief Jay Murphy was unavailable for comment on the issue Thursday.

State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Rep. Dane Eagle did not return messages seeking comment by press time.

On Tuesday, the NTSB issued the 19 recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

For more information on the National Transportation Safety Board’s report, titled “Reaching Zero: Actions to Reduce Alcohol-Impaired Driving,” visit online at: go.usa.gov/TeQe.