WASHINGTON — Federal accident investigators recommended today that states cut their threshold for drunken driving by nearly half, matching a standard that has substantially reduced highway deaths in other countries.
The National Transportation Safety Board said states should shrink the standard from the current 0.08 blood alcohol content to 0.05 as part of a series of recommendations aimed at reducing alcohol-related highway deaths.
More than 100 countries have adopted the 0.05 alcohol content standard or lower, according to a report by the board’s staff. In Europe, the share of traffic deaths attributable to drunken driving was reduced by more than half within 10 years after the standard was dropped.
A woman weighing less than 120 pounds can reach 0.05 after just one drink, studies show. A man weighing up to 160 pounds reaches 0.05 after two drinks.
New approaches are needed to combat drunken driving, which claims the lives of more than a third of the 30,000 people killed each year on U.S highways — a level of carnage that that has remained stubbornly consistent for the past decade and a half, the board said.
“Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. “Alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will.”
But the recommendation to lowering the alcohol content threshold to 0.05 is likely to meet strong resistance from states, said Jonathan Adkins, an official with the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices.
“It was very difficult to get 0.08 in most states so lowering it again won’t be popular,” Mr. Adkins said. “The focus in the states is on high (blood alcohol content) offenders as well as repeat offenders. We expect industry will also be very vocal about keeping the limit at 0.08.”
The lower alcohol content threshold was one of nearly 20 recommendations aimed at reducing drunken driving made by the board, including that states adopt measures to ensure more widespread use of use of alcohol ignition interlock devices. Those require a driver to breathe into a tube, much like the breathalyzers police ask suspected drunken drivers to use.