Local law enforcement officials say they plan to closely follow the findings of an independent federal agency that recently recommended lowering the amount of alcohol drivers can legally have in their systems in an effort to reduce the number of alcohol-related car crashes.
As culmination of a yearlong investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board released a report last week advocating for all 50 states to lower the threshold from 0.08 blood-alcohol content (BAC) to 0.05.
The recommendation to change the BAC — in place nationwide since 2004 — is a cornerstone of the board’s larger initiative to eliminate drunken driving, which accounts for about a third of all road deaths.
The report shows that even a BAC of 0.05 significantly increases the risk of fatal crashes, and that several studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of setting BAC limits below 0.08 for novice drivers, commercial drivers or all drivers.
Local authorities shied away from trumpeting support for the potential change, but many told Noozhawk it’s no secret that drinking less before driving could make roadways safer.
Santa Barbara police Sgt. Riley Harwood said the federal board appears to have done a lot of research.
“I don’t have any reason to doubt that that would have a desired impact on the number of impaired drivers,” Harwood said. “DUI enforcement is something that we take very seriously here.”
In Santa Barbara, there were 39 DUI arrests last month and 49 in March, Harwood noted.
“Apparently we have a lot of them,” he said. “There’s a big emphasis on that here in Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara County. If the law changes, we’re still going to do what we’ve always done, which is to enforce DUI laws aggressively.”
Harwood said it’s important to note — as the 90-page report does — that commercial drivers already adhere to a 0.04 BAC, and that California police can make DUI arrests even if the driver has a BAC lower than 0.08 if he or she is driving erratically or committing some other offense.
“We’re not in favor of anybody driving impaired at any level,” said Lompoc Police Capt. Donald Deming, adding that his department doesn’t have an official stance on the report’s recommendation.
The California Highway Patrol will also continue considering and monitoring the proposal, according to CHP Officer James Richards.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was one organization not afraid to speak in support of the change.
“Mothers Against Drunk Driving appreciates the National Transportation Safety Board for bringing the American public’s attention to the fact that drinking and driving continues to be a major problem on our highways — killing almost 10,000 people a year — and that additional steps have to be taken to save the unnecessary loss of life and injuries …” the national nonprofit said in a statement. “Above all, MADD strongly recommends that the safest course of action is not to drink and drive.”