The National Transportation Safety Board has made a recommendation that states lower thresholds for inebriated drivers from .08 to .05. This would follow the lead of more than 100 countries that have .05 or lower limits. Whether the move would lower the instances of alcohol-related accidents and deaths, as it has in other countries, remains to be seen. Georgia, as did many other states, lowered its alcohol limit from .10 to .08 in 2001 in order to continue receiving federal highway funds, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that in 2001 there were 406 alcohol-related road deaths. In 2008, that number had not receded but had risen slightly to 416.
When the Georgia General Assembly considers changing the legal alcohol limit next session, it should continue last session’s efforts to bring more technology to bear. Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law earlier this month HB 407 that requires those convicted of a second DUI to have an ignition interlock installed in any vehicle available to the violator for a period of a year, up from six months and eight months. An ignition interlock device prevents a car from being started if it detects an alcohol level (similar to a Breathalyzer) that exceeds a certain limit. The device can also be set to retake samples periodically during the same trip to thwart efforts to fool the device, such as having a passenger blow into it. The device records the readings and periodically, the driver has to have those readings downloaded and submitted to the court.
Also last session, state Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, introduced SB 15 that would have required ignition interlocks for first-time DUI offenders. Her bill is still alive and could be approved in the 2014 session.
Lowering the limit, combined with laws already in place, would build a psychological wall that could prevent social drinkers from overindulging, knowing that more than one drink would, most likely, put them over the legal limit. Many accidents are caused by drivers well over the .08 limit. There’s no foolproof way to keep them away from a vehicle, but we can up the punishment when they don’t comply with the law.