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Tougher drunken driving limits proposed

States may consider lowering the standard for drunken driving to the level of a single dry martini after a recommendation yesterday from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB wants state legislatures to drop the measure from the current blood alcohol level of 0.08 to 0.05, about that caused by a dry martini or two beers in a 160-pound person. The 0.08 standard might allow the same person to drive legally after two beers or a couple of margaritas, according to a University of Oklahoma calculator.

“The research clearly shows that drivers with a BAC above 0.05 are impaired and at a significantly greater risk of being involved in a crash where someone is killed or injured,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. “Our goal is to get to zero deaths, because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable. They are crimes. They can and should be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will.”

The NTSB has no authority to impose its recommendations but provides an influential voice in the setting of safety standards. The board’s proposal got an immediate positive response from an organization of state highway safety officials.

“NTSB’s action raises the visibility of drunk driving, and we will consider their recommendations,” said Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association, while underscoring that the group continues to support the .08 level.

Advocates for the beer and liquor industry reacted negatively to the recommendation.

“While obviously the NTSB doesn’t make policy, states take their recommendations very seriously,” said Sarah Longwell of the American Beverage Institute, which lobbies for the industry on the state and national level.

She denounced the recommendation as “terrible.”

“Between 0.05 and 0.08 is not where fatalities are occurring. This is like, people are driving through an intersection at 90 miles an hour and so you drop the speed limit from 35 to 25, it doesn’t make any sense,” Longwell said. “This is something that is going to have a tremendously negative impact on the hospitality industry while not having a positive impact on road safety.”

Longwell said the average blood alcohol level in alcohol-related traffic fatalities is 0.16.

NTSB said a 0.05 limit would significantly reduce crashes and deaths.

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