The National Transportation Safety Board recommends states lower their legal blood alcohol content levels from the current 0.08 to 0.05.
The NTSB said the change is necessary to save lives, though Lieutenant Don Eckert of the Athens-Clarke County Police Traffic Division said he doubts this proposal will ever come to fruition.
“It’s been discussed for the past few years and I don’t think it is ever going to happen,” he said. “I don’t know how it is in other states, but someone can be charged right now with a DUI at 0.05.
Eckert said as it stands now, if someone is found at a 0.08 BAC, it is automatically assumed they are impaired, despite how well they can walk in a straight line.
“If you are between a 0.05 and a 0.08, that is when we judge how safe you are driving,” he said. “So if they were to lower it to a 0.05, you would be assumed impaired at a 0.05, no question.”
A person's BAC level and how they operate is situational, Eckert said.
“I have seen people who are alcoholics blowing a 0.3 and are doing pretty good,” he said. “Then there are other people at a 0.04 falling down drunk.”
Eckert said in Athens, the average BAC is well over a 0.05.
“Last year the DUIs we were pulling were averaging a 0.11 to a 0.12,” said Eckert. “The highest I saw the average bump to last year was a 0.14.”
This is connected to the nationwide effort to combat DUI-related incidents, Eckert said, and is used to persuade people not to drink and drive.
“More people are scared of getting in a wreck or getting caught that it will persuade them not to get in a car if they’ve been drinking," he said.
The lieutenant added those who are under the legal drinking age can be charged with a DUI at a 0.02.
“And if you drive a commercial vehicle, your DUI charge stands at a 0.04,” Eckert said.
He said this is not the first time the legal limit would be lowered.
“It used to be a 0.10, and then it got lowered to a point 0.08 nationwide,” he said. “There were still a few states that held off from the change and kept the limit at a 0.10.”
The NTSB said their research has shown a 0.05 limit has proven effective in other countries like Australia. However, Eckert said the 0.03 difference is simply not as effective as the NTSB is proposing.
“I just think there are other things we can do to catch drunk drivers that will be more effective,” he said. “Lowering the rate would have zero effect on drunk drivers.”
Eckert said increased education is a better way to prevent drunk driving than lowering the legal limit.
“The most we can do is keep up with the enforcement and the education,” he said. “People are more educated now on the effects of a DUI, and how serious it actually is.”
Claire Earnest, a freshman communications studies and sociology major from Longview, Texas, said she feels many college students understand the dangers of drunk driving.
“I feel like my generation is more informed and aware of the severe consequences of drinking and driving through powerful ads and speakers,” she said. “Schools and organizations are taking the initiative to expose students to the risks and show us how serious drinking and driving really is.”
Earnest added that accidents are going to happen, but college students and others can take preventative action.
“College kids can take responsible measures to lower the chances of accidents that are preventable,” she said. “It is important to continue to implement these types of precautions to help continue lowering DUI-related accidents and traffic fatalities.”