Safety Board Calls For Tougher DUI Laws

NTSB calls for ‘end to substance impairment in transportation’ by lowering limit to 0.05

By Justin Franz

In an effort to reduce drunken driving across the country, the National Transportation Safety Board is calling on states to reduce the legal limit from a 0.08 blood-alcohol content to 0.05 or lower.

That lower legal level could mean a 180-pound man would be breaking the law if he got behind the wheel of a motor vehicle after two alcoholic beverages and a woman could be over the limit after just one drink, depending on her size.

The call by the NTSB to “end to substance impairment in transportation” came as part of the independent government agency’s annual “most wanted” safety list. The report notes that in the last 15 years, one-third of all highway deaths have involved a drunk driver. Montana has one of the worst drunken driving fatality rates in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 932 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in Montana between 2003 and 2012.

“When it comes to alcohol use, we know that impairment begins before a person’s BAC reaches 0.08 percent, the current legal limit in the United States,” NTSB officials wrote in their annual wish list. “In fact, by the time it reaches that level, the risk of a fatal crash has more than doubled. That’s why states should lower BAC levels to 0.05 – or even lower.”

But John Barnes, spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and Department of Justice, said lowering the legal limits in the state would be challenging. He said efforts spearheaded by Fox in recent years to toughen Montana’s DUI laws were met with “strong resistance” in the state Legislature. However, lawmakers did revise the state’s laws allowing judges to look at someone’s criminal record for up to 10 years to add penalties for a second DUI. In 2015, in an effort led by Kalispell Rep. Keith Regier, the state doubled the minimum DUI fees for a conviction. It also created a $300 fine for offenders who refuse a breathalyzer and it closed loopholes that allowed some repeat offenders the ability to face minimal punishment.

Like Barnes, Regier questioned how successful lowing the BAC would be in Montana.

“Unless there is a lot of scientific evidence backing 0.05 up I don’t see it getting very far,” he said. “I don’t think it would go anywhere.”

The NTSB’s 2016 most wanted list is designed to increase awareness of and support for “critical” issues the agency believes are facing the nation’s transportation system.

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