Should state lower limit for drunken driving to .05?

Several New York state lawmakers want to lower the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for drunken driving to .05 to combat a surge in alcohol-related crashes on New York roads since the start of the pandemic. Federal safety experts say lowering the legal limit to a .05 BAC would save hundreds of lives. But the state’s bars and restaurants oppose the move saying it will hurt business.

In a recent article from the Gannett News Service addressing the issue, the following statistics were provided:

— Deaths connected to crashes involving drunken drivers have spiked 28% over 2019, hitting 252 last year, according to the state’s Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research.

— Speeding-related fatalities have also surged, reaching a 10-year high of 392 in 2021, followed by 383 last year.

— Fatalities in all types of car crashes jumped nearly 24% in the last four years, to 1,162 last year.

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, a Brooklyn Democrat, introduced a measure this year that would lower the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for driving while intoxicated from the current .08.

“New York was once a leader in combating drinking and driving, but now our policies are outdated,” she said.

More than 100 nations and one U.S. state have lowered their blood alcohol content policies to 0.05 or less because the evidence is clear that there is an increased crash rate above 0.05. State and federal officials say lowering the BAC would reduce by nearly 20% the number of fatal accidents on the nation’s highways.

If every state in the U.S. adopted the lower level, 1,700 lives would be saved annually, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Utah is the only U.S. state to lower its BAC level to .05 effective in 2018.

In a move to keep repeat offenders from driving, the New York state Department of Motor Vehicles proposed a rule change that would reduce from five to four the number of alcohol or drug-related driving convictions needed before a driver’s license can be permanently denied. The move would impact some 10,000 drivers who currently have four alcohol or drug- driving convictions.

Meanwhile, Simon’s bill is opposed by the trade group representing the state’s restaurants and bars. They argue the measure would do little to get problem drinkers — repeat offenders and those who with BACs at double or triple the legal limit — off the road.

“If the drunk driving problem is people with high BACs and repeat offenders, then we’re worried that the good people will be discouraged from coming out and having the one or two legal drinks they can have now,” said Scott Wexler, the executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association.

NTSB analyst Ryan Smith called it “a myth” that the move to .05 would hurt business, noting that nearly 100 countries have already adopted the rule.

Next week, Did You Know will examine how the BAC changes in Utah affected restaurant and tavern owners and statistics about drunk driving and crashes in that state.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today