Proposal to lower blood alcohol level could improve driving safety, researcher says

Published: Sunday, Oct. 13 2013 9:35 p.m. MDT

The NTSB reported the number of alcohol-related highway fatalities dropped from 20,000 in 1980 to less than 10,000 in 2011. Today, about 31 percent of all fatal highway accidents are attributed to alcohol impairment, the agency said.

Fell said the reduced blood alcohol level has proven to be effective at lowering highway deaths abroad and could work just as well in the U.S. if the standard becomes law. However, he noted that critics of the measure like the alcohol and hospitality industries have lobbied hard against dropping the standard any further.

If Utah were to adopt the lower standard, then the NTSB could research its effectiveness over time to determine if empirical data would support the notion of improved public safety, Fell said.

“Most studies are showing an 8 percent to 18 percent reduction in impaired driving fatalities associated with lowering the limit,” he said. “When you lower the limit and it’s publicized, people … either stop drinking and driving or have fewer drinks before they drive. That reduces the risk of being involved in a crash.”

While no state lawmakers have expressed interest in supporting such a change in Utah, Fell and Monson said presenting evidence of the potential public safety benefits could create some awareness.

“Studies show that there is significant impairment at 0.05 with regard to some critical driving tasks,” Fell said. “If (the proposed law) has an 8 (percent) to 10 percent effect, that will save almost a thousand lives a year.”

E-mail: jlee@deseretnews.com

Twitter: JasenLee1

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