In an effort to curb drunk driving, some states are considering following a federal recommendation to reduce the legal blood alcohol concentration for drivers from .08 to .05 percent — a move that Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera said might reduce instances of drunk driving here, but could also result in more arrests.
“I would say it would increase the number of OVIs we see,” the sheriff said.
If the change occurs in Ohio, Barrera said a blood alcohol concentration test could put someone over the legal limit if they’ve had enough for a deputy to smell it on their breath.
“At that level, (they) would probably fail,” Barrera said.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Board recommended in 2013 that all 50 states lower the benchmark for determining when a driver is legally drunk from .08 blood alcohol concentration to .05, with the idea being part of an initiative to eliminate drunk driving deaths on the nation’s highways.
In Ohio, the state highway patrol reported that 405 people were killed in OVI (Operating a Vehicle Impaired) crashes in 2017, compared with 430 the year before.
Alcohol-related traffic fatalities have been on the decline since 1995, according to AAA, but nearly one-third of all highway deaths are still caused by drunk drivers.
The auto club said it supports lowering the blood alcohol concentration standard to .05 percent. Ohio currently keeps the nationwide standard of .08 percent BAC.
Utah was the first state to adopt such a measure in 2017, and it was signed into law there on Dec. 30, 2018. AAA reported that last year legislation designed to lower the BAC for drivers 21 years and older was introduced in California, Michigan, New York and Oregon, with similar bills calling for feasibility studies in Connecticut and Hawaii on lowering the BAC limit to .05.
According to the NHTSA, the nationwide standard of .08 percent BAC was put into effect by the U.S. congress in 2000 as the alcohol level by which law enforcement and the courts deem a person can be charged with driving under the influence.
Organizations such as the American Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association and the World Health Organization have demonstrated support of the measure, AAA said, with research claiming that the reduction would lead to fewer crashes, injuries and fatalities.
However, one organization that has spearheaded efforts to curb drunk driving expressed its opposition when the NHTSA issued their lower BAC recommendation: Mothers Against Drunk Driving said that it preferred to instead focus on other strategies, such as high-visibility drunk driving enforcement and more ignition interlocks on vehicles.
MADD said other critics of the proposal noted that several states already allow drivers who tested below the legal limit to still be charged with driving under the influence if there is found to be additional proof of impairment, such as a failed or refused roadside sobriety test.
An NHTSA chart indicated that a woman who weighs 120 pounds would be at the .08 BAC threshold after only two drinks in one hour, while a man with a weight of 200 pounds would be legally intoxicated after about four drinks in the same amount of time.
How many drinks it takes take to be considered legally drunk is dependent upon the alcoholic content of the beverage — a 12-ounce can of beer is on average five to eight percent alcohol, while a five-ounce glass of wine is roughly 12 percent and a one-and-a-half ounce shot of whiskey is 40 percent alcohol, the agency said.
The AAA motorist report cited studies that show a .05 BAC law would have broad deterrent value since it would prevent drinking drivers from getting behind the wheel in the first place, and didn’t feel it would result in more OVI arrests.
“It was lowered from 1.0 to .08 some years back to deter people from drinking and driving, and to keep them off the road,” Barrera said. “The end result is it makes folks use more designated drivers to get them around, and that’ll make the roads safer for the rest of us.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.