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NTSB calls for .05 percent drunk driving limit


Drivers in New Jersey and all other states are considered legally intoxicated if they have a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or higher, but a recommendation made on Jan. 13 by the National Transportation Safety Board would see this limit reduced to .05 percent or lower. The safety agency says that adopting the proposal would save hundreds of lives each year and bring the United States in line with most other countries. It points out that only Iran, Canada and the United States allow motorists to get behind the wheel with a BAC level of more than .05 percent.

Lowering the legal driving limit is opposed by restaurant trade groups that say that the measure would turn responsible people into criminals. The NTSB feels otherwise, and it says that individuals who are considered fit to drive under current laws are more than twice as likely to be involved in a fatal accident than a driver who has not been drinking. The agency believes that the .05 percent legal driving limit would save a significant number of lives each year.

Lobbyists for the hospitality industry may worry about the effect that a reduction in the drunk driving limit could have on alcohol sales. A man weighing 180 pounds will be skirting with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent after two drinks, and a 100-pound woman would only be able to consume one drink before falling afoul of the law.

Criminal defense attorneys may point out that lowering acceptable blood alcohol levels may also lead to an increase in the number of false positive toxicology test results caused by poorly maintained or inaccurately calibrated testing equipment. When questions arise regarding the reliability of breath or blood test results, defense attorneys may review the experience and qualifications of those who conducted the test, the maintenance records of the machine in question and the medical history of the motorist involved.

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