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States urged to lower DUI limit

NTSB recommendation of 0.05 limit would make some women legally drunk after one drink.

A federal agency on Tuesday asked states to toughen the standard to declare when someone is legally too drunk to drive.

Among a series of recommendations, the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates traffic crashes, said states should reduce the DUI standard from 0.08 blood alcohol content to 0.05.

While results vary by person, a woman weighing less than 120 pounds can reach 0.05 after just one drink, studies show. A man weighing up to 160 pounds can reach 0.05 after two drinks.

Ohio officials contacted by the Columbus Bureau either didn’t respond for requests for comment or said they have not yet had a chance to thoroughly review the NTSB’s recommendation.

Majority Ohio House Republicans have not yet had a chance to thoroughly discuss the issue and have no position, said spokesman Mike Dittoe.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol also has no position on the NTSB’s recommendation, said Lt. Anne Ralston. But she said under Ohio law, someone can be arrested for DUI even if they pass a breath test if troopers suspect they are under the influence of another drug as well.

Phil Craig, executive director of Ohio Licensed Beverage Association, which represents Ohio’s bars and taverns, said the current legal limit is just fine.

“We think in Ohio, and I would dare say without looking very carefully that around the country, hospitality have done their job, and consumers have done their job,” Craig said.

New approaches are needed to help curb the 10,000 DUI-related deaths that take place every year, board members said.

“Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. “Alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will.”

More than 100 countries use a 0.05 standard or lower, including Australia, Brazil, Germany, India and Japan. In the European Union, drunk-driving related deaths were more than cut in half within a decade of adopting the lower standard, according to the NTSB.

The NTSB recommended that the federal government get states to adopt the lower standard by taking away millions in transportation funding. That tactic worked twice before — in the early 1980s and late 1990s. Even with the threat, Ohio lawmakers didn’t lower the state’s DUI standard from 0.1 to 0.08 until 2003.

Still, it seems unlikely that anyone will need to rethink their happy hour routine in the near future. Key organizations such as Mothers against Drunk Driving are neutral on a further reduction in the DUI level, while spirited opposition would likely come from groups such as restaurant and bar professional associations and libertarians.

“Short of Congress requiring the states to go to 0.05 percent, which I can’t imagine them doing, I can’t imagine any action any time soon,” said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director for the Governors Highway Safety Association Adkins.

Doug Scoles, executive director for MADD in Ohio, said the anti-DUI movement’s political energy would be better spent on pushing for changes focusing on technology that prevents drunk people from starting cars.

“If we were to go that way (pursue lowering the BAC) … it’s not just a distraction, but it could undermine our efforts to eliminate drunk driving through technology,” Scoles said. “It took us 21 years to get the 0.08 limit passed.”

The NTSB has previously recommended states require drivers with DUI convictions to install Breathalyzer-like devices in their cars that won’t let them drive without first blowing into a tube. The board has also pushed for the auto industry to research and develop technology that would prevent drunk people from starting cars through less invasive means.

Scoles said those two technologies could eliminate 80 percent DUI-related deaths, and MADD plans to continue to campaign for them.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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