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NTSB Recommends Lowering The Legal Limit On Drunk Driving To .05

WASHINGTON (CBS) - The National Transportation Safety Board wants the threshold for drunk driving to be lowered from .08 to .05 Blood Alcohol Content.

Currently, all 50 states have a .08 BAC legal limit.

The NTSB voted Tuesday to recommend that states lower that limit.

The recommendation was made on Tuesday as part of a list of recommendations targeting impaired driving.

The NTSB also voted to approve recommendations for more drunk driving checkpoints, stiffer license suspension/revocation penalties, ignition locks for past offenders, and enhanced used of passive detection technology.

Officials say their data-driven recommendations would help prevent crashes, reduce injuries and save lives.

Among the data the NTSB cited was a statistic that showed the chance of a crash doubles when a driver's BAC is .07 compared to when it's at zero.


Jesse Hayes is a bartender and waiter at The Plough and Stars in Cambridge. He calls the proposal "shocking."

"Knowing that they want to go to .05, at that point, we are very close to zero tolerance and going to a blood alcohol level of zero," he says. "And then I'm going to have to go start telling people that I can't serve them, not because they're acting as if they're intoxicated, but because if they leave here and get in trouble we're liable for it."

Hayes is also concerned for his bottom line; fewer drinkers, or people consuming fewer drinks, means he earns less money.

It's a tradeoff worth considering for many people.

"I think it's a solid proposal," says Ron Bersani. Ten years ago this summer, a drunk driver killed the Marshfield resident's granddaughter, Melanie Powell.

Bersani and his family have fought for tougher drunk driving laws ever since. He thinks the NTSB's idea could work.

"I do believe that anything that can save lives is worth looking into," he says. "Clearly we need to change our behavior in this state and in this country with regards to drunk driving."

James Milligan is a Norwell-based attorney who specializes in defending people who are charged with driving drunk.

He worries the .05 threshold is so low, someone might truly not be impaired -- but would still find themselves committing a crime once behind the wheel.

"You wouldn't be able to gauge your own behavior because you don't know where you are in the spectrum," he explains. "So you may feel perfectly fine and yet be driving illegally and you have no idea. And so how do you gauge that behavior if you feel fine?"

Not only does Milligan think the lower limit is tough to enforce, he says it could likely lead to increasingly clogged courts. People accused of driving drunk when the threshold is so low, he believes, will be less likely to plead guilty and more likely to demand a trial to prove their innocence.

"We want our roads to be safe and that's the goal. But at the same time, that person who says, 'I'm fine to drive my car' is certainly not going to walk into a District Court and admit guilt," he says.

WBZ-TV's Jim Armstrong contributed to this report

Online: BAC Calculator: What's Your Limit?

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