The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

Local News

May 17, 2013

NTSB wants to lower DWI blood alcohol levels

TARBORO — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a bold set of targeted interventions to put the United States on course to eliminate alcohol-impaired related crashes. They have given recommendations that call for stronger laws, swifter enforcement and expanded use of technology.

The main targeted intervention is lowering the blood alcohol content (BAC) levels to 0.05 throughout the country. NTSB believes that if the levels are lowered then the alcohol-impaired crash totals will be lowered. The BAC levels now in most states are 0.08 for someone to be charged for driving while impaired (DWI).

The NTSB released a statement saying investigators cited research that showed that although impairment begins with the first drink someone takes, by 0.05 BAC, most drivers experience a decline in both cognitive and visual functions, which significantly increases the risk of a serious crash.

Currently, over 100 countries on six continents have lowered their BAC limits and set them at 0.05 or lower. The NTSB is asking all 50 states to do the same.

According to statistics, each year in the US nearly 10,000 people are killed in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers. More than 173,000 are injured, 27,000 suffer incapacitating injuries.

Since the mid-1980's in North Carolina,  the number of alcohol-related crashes have dropped off significantly each year, but have remained steady during the past four to five years.

in 2008, there were 1,433 total crashes in NC and 500 of them were alcohol related. Out of those 500 crashes, 423 of them had 0.08 BAC or higher. In 2009, the number declined to 430 in alcohol related crashes and 363 of them had 0.08 BAC or higher. In 2010, those statistics went up, where there were 453 alcohol related crashes and 388 had 0.08 BAC or higher. In 2011, the numbers dropped off a little. There were 417 alcohol related accidents and 365 of them had 0.08 BAC or higher.

Since the mid-1990's, even as total highway fatalities have fallen, the proportion of deaths from accidents involving an alcohol-impaired driver has remained constant at around 30 percent. In the last 30 plus years, nearly 440,000 people have died in alcohol related crashes.

In other findings with the NTSB, they said investigators have found that high-visibilty enforcement efforts such as sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols paired with media campaigns deter alcohol-impaired driving.

To increase the effectiveness of these programs, the NTSB recommended that police use passive alcohol sensors to help better detect alcohol vapors in one's body in the ambient environment.

The board, further said that an intervention known as administrative license suspension, which allows law enforcement authorities to immediately suspend or revoke a driver's license at the time of a DWI arrest would be more effective if the state required offenders to have an ignition interlock on their vehicles before licenses could be fully reinstated.

(Information from a NTSB press release contributed to this story.)

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