OCEAN CITY — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) this month issued a series of proposed interventions and recommendations to reduce or eliminate altogether the number of alcohol-related crashes, including a proposal to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit from the current .08 percent to .05 in every state in the country and the initiative has some local support.
The NTSB’s 19 recommendations call for stronger laws, swifter enforcement and expanded use of technology. Chief among the recommendations is a proposal to reduce the legal BAC limit from the current .08 to .05.
The proposal is just a recommendation and the individual states would have to act to change the law, but with federal highway funds often tied to alcohol-related statistics and compliance with federal recommendations, most states, including Maryland, would likely fall in line if the NTSB forces the issue.
“Most Americans think we’ve solved the problem of impaired driving, but in fact, it’s still a national epidemic,” said NTSB Chairperson Deborah A.P. Hersman. “On average, every hour one person is killed and 20 more are injured.”
NTSB investigators cited research that showed that although impairment begins with the first drink, by .05 BAC, most drivers experience a decline in both cognitive and visual functions, which significantly increases the risk of a serious crash. Currently, over 100 countries on six continents have BAC limits set at .05 or lower and the NTSB is asking all 50 states to do the same.
“The research clearly shows that drivers with a BAC above .05 are impaired and at a significantly greater risk of being involved in a crash where someone is killed or injured,” said Hersman.
It’s no secret the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) makes hundreds of drunk-driving arrests each year, particularly during the summer months with the town’s population soars to a couple hundred thousand all enjoying vacation and relaxation and everything that entails. Ocean City Police Public Information Officer Mike Levy said this week the department would support the change if the evidence showed it would reduce alcohol-related crashes and ultimately save lives.
“Our official position is the OCPD supports anything to make people safer,” he said. “That means seatbelts, helmets for motorcycle and scooter riders and everything else. If the evidence supports this will make people safer, than we’re all for it.”
Levy said the OCPD has seen an increase in the number of DUI arrests in large part because of an aggressive enforcement initiative and a zero tolerance policy.
“We did make more DUI arrests last year,” he said. “If you’re going to be in Ocean City and you attempt to drink and drive, you’re probably going to be arrested. We have a zero tolerance policy and we don’t sway from that.”
Levy further said the frustrating thing about drunk-driving in the resort, and the often tragic consequences, is that it so preventable.
“The silly thing is, if you’re in Ocean City, there is no good reason to drink and drive,” he said. “We have an excellent and efficient public transportation system, there are a ton of taxi cabs and many of our areas are very walkable. If none of that works for you, designate a sober driver. It’s just not worth it.”
Several local, state and national organizations have weighed in on the issue of reducing the legal BAC limit to .05 and few disagree it could help achieve the desired result of greatly reducing the number of alcohol-related crashes. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) supports the proposed lowering of the legal BAC limit, but only if it remains part of a larger campaign being waged against the epidemic.
“MADD’s priorities are to focus on all of the initiatives that are currently in the campaign and not just single out the lowering of the blood alcohol concentration level,” said MADD President Jan Withers. “MADD has always recommended that the best course of action is to not drink and drive, and like MADD, the National Transportation Safety Board is concerned that drunk driving is a major problem on our highways, representing one third of all highway deaths.”
Some, however, believe reducing the legal BAC limit to .05 goes too far and could result in unnecessary arrests and prosecutions of those not impaired.
“The legal definition of driving under the influence must not be reduced from the current limit of .08 for blood alcohol concentration to .05 percent,” said National Motorists Association President Gary Biller. “It is critically important to establish a definition of a drunken or impaired driving that is fair, reasonable and data-supported. A .05 limit is none of these.”
While he supports most efforts to reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes, Biller said this week lowering the BAC legal limit to .05 is not the answer.
“Make no mistake, impaired drivers should be removed from the road for their own safety as well as the safety of others,” he said. “Penalties for drunken driving should be commensurate with levels of impairment. Decreasing the blood alcohol concentration to .05 percent is tantamount to charging, and placing a scarlet letter upon, numerous drivers for a crime with no evidence of actual impairment.”