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Drunk driving: Why is MADD among critics of lower alcohol limit? (+video)

The National Transportation Safety Board is proposing that the legal limit for a driver's blood-alcohol content be reduced from 0.08 to 0.05. Critics say it's the wrong focus for anti-drunk driving efforts.

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“This would have a devastating impact on the hospitality industry while having no corollary benefit for public safety,” she says.  

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Instead, she says, the government should focus its efforts on the “hard-core drunk drivers” responsible for the majority of alcohol-linked road deaths. That means better education around drinking and driving and a focus on technologies like the ignition interlock, a small device like a breathalyzer installed on a car’s dashboard that forces the driver to demonstrate sobriety before he or she can start the vehicle.

MADD supports many of these efforts, too, and says government needs to redouble its efforts to enforce the laws it already has in place to stop impaired driving.

Since the 1980s, organizations like MADD have successfully launched public-awareness campaigns that have stigmatized drunken driving and led to more-stringent limits across the country.

Consequently, crashes with alcohol-impaired drivers plunged more than 50 percent – from 21,113 in 1983 to 9,878 in 2011 – and the proportion of highway fatalities resulting from crashes with a drunken driver fell from half to a third. 

But now, such statistics are plateauing, the NTSB says.

“Most Americans think that we’ve solved the problem of impaired driving, but in fact, it’s still a national epidemic,” said NTSB chair Deborah Hersman in a statement. “On average, every hour one person is killed and 20 more are injured.” 

Reducing the legal limit, the agency argues, would also better align the United States with the global consensus on impaired driving. More than 100 countries already have BAC limits at 0.05 or below, the NTSB says, including 25 of the 27 members of the European Union. Several nations, including Russia, Brazil, Hungary, and Nepal, have a legal limit of zero, and a host set the standard at 0.02 or 0.03, according to the International Center for Alcohol Policies.

The NTSB does not make law: It can only make recommendations to the states and federal government. It is likely to continue facing stiff opposition. Still, Dr. Babor says, this is something the group should fight for.

“The National Transportation Safety Board wouldn’t have recommended this unless there was overwhelming evidence that it would help," he says.

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