Has the Lowering of the BAC to 0.08 Nationwide Made Substantial Impacts?

Driving while under the influence of alcohol and or other substances has posed a series of questions of public policy for the United States since the early 1900s. In fact, New York was the first state to pass a law against drinking and driving in 1910. Notably, in 2000, Congress passed legislation that lowered the legal limit of a person’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) from 0.10 to 0.08 of 1%; a person who operates a motor vehicle with a BAC greater than 0.08 would be charged with DUI/DWI. While Congress creates laws to address questions of public policy, has the lowering of the legal BAC limit to 0.08 translated into substantial impacts?

So why question the impact of a law? For one, making laws and enforcing them is expensive. Second, to effectively enforce a law nationwide in every state takes a substantial amount of resources and coordination. There are an endless amount of reasons as to why drunk driving is a unique question of public policy, but the biggest perhaps is how to reduce fatalities and expenses stemming from alcohol related fatalities.

The case was made by numerous public entities, such as the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that not only did the US have one of the highest BAC limits at 0.10 compared to most countries having limits of 0.05 and lower, but also that “alcohol-related crashes led to more than 16,600 deaths, and costs exceed[ing] $51 billion nationwide” . To further incentivize states to reduce their BAC limits to 0.08, “Congress mandated that states adopt the stricter BAC limit of 0.08 percent by October 2003 or risk losing a portion of their highway funding” . The rate of fatalities and expenses, coupled with the congressional threat of reduced highway funding, made lowering the BAC to 0.08 imperative for moral and financial reasons.

While the statistics are staggering, they do not provide an accurate picture of the true cost and impact to the American public. For one, the statistics do not disclose what period of time they represent. These statistics could span all the way back to 1910 when the first law against drunk driving was adopted. Second, these numbers group all states together, and do not draw any distinctions. It could be the case that some states have a more severe problem with drunk driving than others, which makes this congressional policy seem like a one-size-fits-all solution to a unique question of public policy. This is why, for example, there is not a national speed limit. This same line of thinking can be applied to drunk driving: why set an arbitrary national standard?

After comparing statistics from multiple sources, the numbers do not reflect a substantial impact resulting from the lowering of the national BAC limit to 0.08. According to the CDC’s Alcohol Related Disease Impact (ARDI), which combined data from three different sources, the average total number of deaths from alcohol related motor vehicle accidents in New York from 2006-2010 was around 434 (combined averages of motor vehicle traffic crashes, non-traffic crashes, and other road vehicle classes). While 434 is not a number that should simply be ignored, additional data for other alcohol related deaths is quite interesting. In total, vehicular related alcohol deaths were a mere 9% of an average total of 5,177 deaths from acute and chronic causes related to alcohol. In addition, while the average number of deaths from motor vehicle incidents related to alcohol was the highest for acute fatalities, other categories such as fall injuries, homicide, and suicide were not far behind.

Alcohol related fatalities are classified as acute by the CDC, which means the fatality was sudden. Chronic instances are fatalities that alcohol contributed to over time. According to the CDC, there were almost 1,000 more chronic cases of fatalities (3052) compared to acute cases (2,125).

So what do these statistics really tell us about alcohol related deaths in the United States? Several conclusions can be made from these statistics, but one that is quite evident is that alcohol contributes to a lot of deaths in the United States; driving under the influence is small percentage of them. While 434 fatalities are quite high, what about the other 4,743, or better yet, the other 91% of fatalities not related to driving at all? Congress did have good intentions when passing the BAC reduction legislation in 2000, but it seems as if their work has not and should not end there.

The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 269 W. Jefferson St.; Syracuse, New York 13202; Telephone No.: (315) 473-0899. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.