Safety agency recommends lower BAC limit for impaired driving

A bill introduced in the Wisconsin State Legislature would create more serious consequences for those who are convicted of intoxicated snowmobiling.

The National Transportation Safety Board recently issued a recommendation that all 50 states modify their impaired driving laws to substantially reduce the amount of alcohol that a driver may have in his or her system while operating a motor vehicle. Under the existing law in Wisconsin and every other U.S. state, it is a crime to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or above. The NTSB recommends reducing the legal BAC limit to just 0.05.

Recommendation draws mixed response

Advocates of the proposed change say that lowering the impaired driving threshold could help save lives, but opponents criticize the recommendation as ineffective and unnecessarily punitive to those who drink in moderation.

In support of its recommendation, the NTSB says that current DUI laws don't go far enough toward keeping drivers off the road when they are impaired by alcohol, because some drivers may be affected by alcohol even when their BACs are below the current limit of 0.08. For instance, according to the NTSB, some drivers with a BAC of 0.05 may experience decreased depth perception and other visual impairments, while cognitive impairment may start to appear in some drivers at a BAC of 0.07.

On the other hand, those who oppose lowering the BAC limit to 0.05 say that it would punish drivers who drink responsibly and would do nothing to reduce the number of highly intoxicated drivers on the road. According to the National Beverage Institute, a group that opposes the recommendation, more than 70 percent of fatal DUI crashes in the U.S. involve drivers with a BAC of at least 0.15 - nearly twice the current legal limit, and three times the limit proposed by the NTSB.

No new laws in store yet

The NTSB is a federal agency dedicated to investigating and making recommendations on safety issues related to transportation in the United States. However, it has no lawmaking authority. Therefore, individual states are able to choose whether to pass new laws incorporating the NTSB's recommendations.

The last time the BAC threshold changed on a national scale was when the legal limit for intoxication was reduced from 0.10 to 0.08. According to an NBC report, it took 21 years for all states to make the transition, and the last state did so in 2004.

A spokesman for the Governor's Highway Safety Association, which supports current BAC limits, said that the organization does not expect any states will lower their intoxication thresholds to reflect the NTSB's recommendation.

Wisconsin DUI law

In Wisconsin, a driver can be arrested and charged with impaired driving even if his or her BAC is below the 0.08 limit. Wisconsin state law prohibits operating a motor vehicle while "under the influence" of alcohol or other intoxicants, which is defined as having a reduced ability to operate a vehicle safely because of the effects of alcohol or other drugs - regardless of BAC level. In addition, for Wisconsin drivers with three or more prior DUI convictions, a lower BAC limit of 0.02 applies.

The consequences of DUI conviction in Wisconsin can be steep, particularly for repeat DUI offenses or those involving injuries or death of another person. People arrested for DUI in Wisconsin should contact an attorney at their earliest opportunity to help protect their legal rights and defend against any charges that may arise.

Speak with the attorneys at Melowski & Associates, LLC., in Sheboygan, by calling 920-299-5074 or contact us by email.