How low should the drunk driving limit be? That question has resurfaced this month since the National Transportation Safety Board put out a proposal to lower the blood-alcohol content limit from 0.08 to 0.05.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Todd Ringle agrees with the proposal and believes it will save lives. He said in 2015, there were 450 alcohol-related crashes in which the drivers had a b-a-c of 0.05 to 0.07 and of those, seven people were killed and 240 were injured.
Retired Indiana State Senator Tom Wyss is wishing the national proposers good luck. He remembers a long fight to lower the Indiana OWI level while he was in office. His proposal to drop the state’s BAC level from 0.1 to 0.08 passed in 2001.
“It was a tremendous fight and any attempt to do anything different now is going to be just as difficult, if not more so,” he said. “It took 11 years of constant badgering and coming back with the legislation to get the legislators to even move to the 0.08.”
Wyss said the biggest problem for him was getting people to see a difference between “drunk” and “impaired” driving.
“They started describing somebody who is drunk, falling down and so forth,” he said. “They weren’t recognizing that impairment was what we were talking about. Your ability to react. Your ability to know when to hit the brakes and when to steer out of danger.”
Dr. Donald Reed Jr., Lutheran Hospital’s medical director of trauma services, said in his 30 years of practice most of the patients he’s seen involved in alcohol-related crashes had BAC levels above 0.05.
“The vast majority of impaired drivers involved in serious accidents are well above the 0.08, usually above the 0.15 level,” he said.
He said he has no issue with the national proposal, but wonders if there is a better route to go.
“If you lowered it to 0.04 or 0.02 or 0.01, you’d probably get an incremental decrease in traffic accidents related to that but to prevent traffic fatalities related to alcohol impaired drivers I would be more in favor of, for instance ignition locks on those who have already been convicted of drunk driving behavior.”
Reed would like see more research on drivers with BAC’s of 0.05.
“We could potentially look forward to a few saved lives and certainly I think a few saved lives is worthwhile,” he said. “I just think it remains to be demonstrated whether or not that’s in fact going to be the case.”
Both Wyss and Reed agree that these proposals are not about fighting drinking, but about drinking and driving.