San Diego Local Community News

Lowering the Legal BAC limit to 0.05 and what it could mean for California Residents
About 30 people die daily in America in connection to DUI incidents. That translates to about 11,000 people annually, and this number is increasing. In California alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded 882 drunk-driving related deaths in 2014. Apart from deaths, hundreds of severe injuries are also being recorded daily.
In a bid to significantly lower the number of casualties in DUI-related accidents, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) has recommended that the legal blood alcohol concentration of drivers should be lowered from the current 0.08% to 0.05%. According to their report, a BAC of 0.05% would save the lives of about 2,500 people annually.
The same call was made in 2013 by the National Transportation Safety Board based on overwhelming evidence from road, track, and laboratory tests, which showed that the impairment of drivers’ ability begins with the first drink. Their report acknowledges that there has been some progress in preventing these deaths, but still, drug-impaired driving remains to be a considerable danger on the roads today.
With the various calls of lowering the BAC limit to .05, let’s explore what this will mean to California residents.
Current BAC Limits
Currently, the legal alcohol intoxication limits in California are BAC of less than 0.08% for those who are older than 21 years and are driving passenger vehicles, less than 0.04% for adults driving commercial vehicles, and less than 0.01% for underage drivers.
You could be charged with DUI under VEH 23152 (b) if you drive a vehicle with a BAC exceeding the legal limits. Note that you can always seek legal help from a DUI Lawyer if you are charged with a DUI crime.
The Origin of Lowering the Legal BAC Limit
Since 1990, when there was a change in the standard of drunk-driving in the country, quite several California residents have managed to figure out how many drinks they can have without getting into trouble with authorities. If the BAC level is reduced to 0.05%, drinkers will again be forced to adjust their drinking habits, and they will be able to figure out the number of drinks they can take without getting worried about DUI issues, and that’s what Autumn Burke (Assemblywoman) hopes for. She already tabled a bill, AB 1713, proposing to lower the illegal BAC level from 0.08% to 0.05%.
The bill has been named Liam’s Law to commemorate and honor Liam, a boy who was knocked and killed in Hawthorne Street by an intoxicated driver when he was being pushed by his aunt in a stroller across the street. The boy was 15 months old while the aunt was 15 years old. Liam’s parents, Marcus Kowal, his father, and Mishel Eder, his mother, have been crusading for the illegal BAC level to be lowered to reduce the number of deaths related to drunk-driving in California and America at large. Burke was influenced by publishing the bill after she listened to the parents of Liam.
What Has Stopped the Law From Being Changed?
Opponents of this move argue that a low BAC limit will not save lives because many drivers who are involved in fatal accidents have their BAC level far above 0.08. However, evidence points to the fact that when the BAC level is lowered to 0.05%, the number of fatalities will fall because only a few people will accept to drive while under the influence of alcohol.
In 2013, a report by the NTSB had several recommendations. One of these recommendations is the proposal that the BAC level for drivers should be lowered to 0.05% from 0.08%. NTSB supported this with strong reasons and stated that the effect of a lower BAC limit on reducing the number of road accidents has been proven and many industrialized countries have already embraced it as their BAC limit. Unfortunately, the American Beverage Institute opposed the recommendation terming it as ‘ludicrous’ and an attempt to criminalize a very responsible behavior. ABI is funded by the hospitality and alcohol industries in the US.
Other organizations, among them Mothers against Drunk Driving, never showed any enthusiasm in supporting this course. They even questioned the likely benefit of the 0.05% BAC limit, and this has raised many debates concerning this matter. However, many research organizations have come up with strong reasons to support the lowering of BAC to 0.05%, as discussed further in the next section.
Why Should the BAC Limit be Lowered?
Different groups and people have called for the lowering of the BAC limit from .08 to .05 for various reasons. Let’s explore these reasons and the possibility of lowering the BAC limit before looking at its implication to California residents.

  1. DUI Affects Everyone

In California, you have indeed been involved in a DUI accident, or you know a friend or a family member who has been involved in one. DUI accidents affect many innocent victims, and about 40% of those killed in these accidents are innocent pedestrians, passengers, other sober drivers, and cyclists.
The damage in terms of wreckage is also costly. From the NASEM figures, $120 billion is wasted on drug-impaired driving-related incidents in the country annually. The proposal to lower the BAC to 0.05% is, therefore, not far-fetched, because many countries in Europe, including massive-drinking Germany and France, use that limit. In these countries, the traffic fatality levels resulting from DUI are lower compared to those in the US.

  1.   The California Public Supports a 0.05 BAC Limit

In California, many people support BAC levels that are below 0.08. The NHTSA conducted a survey nationally, and the results showed that many people refused to drive after taking two to three drinks within one hour. This is because they believed that their BAC level while driving should not be higher than what that quantity of drinks results in, which is a common occurrence in DUI cases.
Surprisingly, two to three drinks result in a BAC of 0.05% or even lower for some drivers. Still, many drivers would only accept to drive if their BAC levels are lower than 0.05%. This also implies that a legal limit of 0.05% BAC is quite reasonable because it is what works naturally for many drivers.

  1. People Get Remarkably Impaired at BAC of 0.05

As a DUI Lawyer, a driver’s impairment plays a significant role in the defense against DUI charges. A driver can only be guilty of drunk driving if they were impaired and could not drive like a sober person.
Laboratory test results show that many adults get remarkably impaired when their BAC level reaches 0.05%. A paper published by Moskowitz & Fiorentino in which they reviewed more than 100 scientific papers that covered how alcohol affects drivers’ skills revealed that at a BAC of 0.05%, many of their subjects showed significant impairment.
In another research, a total of 168 drivers were tested, and the results were more interesting. Some drivers got impaired at BACs of 0.02%, meaning if such drivers could reach a BAC of 0.05%, they would be so impaired to the extent that they can’t even drive without causing an accident.
Even Heavy Drinkers Get Impaired at a BAC of 0.05
Anyone with 0.05 to 0.07% BAC is highly likely to cause a serious crash than a sober person. Test track and lab results show that all drivers are impaired at BAC of 0.05; it doesn’t matter whether they have been heavy drinkers or not. It impairs even those who have been reaching 0.15% BACs or higher. Moreover, the impairment affects vital driving tasks such as attention, judgment, lane-changing, steering, and braking.
Compared to sober drivers, drunk drivers’ performance is reduced between 30 to 50 percent at 0.05% BAC, meaning that beyond this level, the performance of a driver will be highly compromised to the extent that they can be involved in a fatal crash if they attempt to drive.

  1. Most Countries Have Set a 0.05 BAC Limit

Many industrialized countries have 0.05% as their BAC limit; some have even lower limits than this. In Canada, some provinces have set 0.05 BAC limit as their “warn range,” and police officers can suspend the licenses of those who attain or go beyond this limit by between one to seven days.
In British Columbia, a study which was conducted just recently found out that a warn range of 0.05% BAC reduced drunk-related serious crashes by 40 percent. This can be attributed to the fact that those drivers who were found with BAC levels of between 0.05% to 0.07% had their licenses suspended for up to three days. This reduced the number of drivers with this BAC level on the road, hence the decrease in the number of fatal crashes.
Britain implemented a nationwide 0.08 BAC in 1967, and it took 16 good years before that limit was adopted in the US by any state. By the time Britain adopted this level, many states in the US had a BAC limit of 0.15% – which was very high. The number of fatal accidents in the US was higher than in Britain, where the 0.08 BAC limit was strongly enforced. In Australia, all states have now set 0.05% BAC as their illegal limit. Other countries like Sweden, Russia, Norway, and Japan have 0.02% as their BAC limit.
Furthermore, organizations such as the Canadian Medical Association, the American Medical Association, The World Medical Association, the European Commission, the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, the British Medical Association have policies that support a BAC level of 0.05% or lower for all drivers from the age of at least 21 years old.
Other organizations with similar policies include the World Health Organization, the European Transport Safety Council, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (not less than 91 across the globe) have set a BAC limit of at least 0.05% for driving, and in these countries, the number of deaths resulting from drunk-driving accidents has significantly gone down. All that these mean is that an illegal BAC level of 0.5% will be a blessing to California residents.

  1. There is Significant Increment in Risk of Crashing at a BAC Above 0.05

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation researchers came up with a review on how various BACs affect crashes and driving. The review gave solid reasons why a BAC level of 0.05% was an excellent strategy. They stated that as BAC level increases, there is a proportionate increase in the likelihood of an occurrence of a crash and also an increase in the severity of the crash. Interestingly, they found out that such risks are statistically significant, and they rise rapidly from 0.05% BAC and above.
A recent study has also found out that it is seven times more likely for a person to be killed in one crash when the driver’s BAC is at 0.05% to 0.079% than for a driver whose BAC is 0.00%. Such findings cannot be ignored because they point to the fact that low BAC limits can save lives.
The Meaning of BAC Limit of .05 and How it Will Affect California Residents
A BAC of 0.05% is not usually reached by just taking a few drinks after work or by taking one or two glasses of wine with dinner. An adult male who weighs 170 pounds must take at least four bottles within two hours to reach or exceed a BAC of 0.05% when his stomach is empty. The same applies to a female who weighs 137 pounds.
The BAC level reached depends on an individual’s weight, gender, and age, as well as whether the individual has some food in their stomach or not. It also depends on the metabolism rate of the person, so it doesn’t matter how many bottles a person consumes, what is true is that at a BAC of 0.05%, a person will be so impaired that they cannot drive safely.
If the BAC limit was lowered to .05, here is how we’ll be affected as California residents:

  1. A Legal BAC Limit of 0.05 Will Lower the Number of Fatal Crashes

A legal BAC limit of 0.05% has been proven to be effective in lowering the number of fatal crashes in Australia, Europe, and the countries that have implemented it. Although the research methodologies used in Australia and Europe to assess these effects were not the same, the results are persuasive and consistent in supporting the fact that injury and fatal crashes involving DUI are decreased by low BAC level. The findings indicated that these accidents decreased by between 5 to 18 percent after the BAC limit was lowered to 0.05 from 0.08% by these countries.
If the US can adopt 0.05% BAC as the legal limit, and if all the states can enforce it, then approximately 800 lives will be saved each year. This is not just a mere statement; it can be remembered that when the US lowered the legal BAC limit to 0.08 from 0.10%, many studies reported that the number of fatal crashes resulting from drunk-driving reduced significantly. Interestingly, the result of two independent studies showed that when the BAC level for adults was lowered from 0.10% to 0.08%, the number of fatal crashes caused by underage drunk drivers reduced by 8 percent.

  1. Police Officers Will Not Have Any Difficulty in Enforcing a Lower BAC Limit

Many studies, among them a study sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in Illinois, researched the effect of enforcing a lower BAC limit on the court system and the enforcement efforts by police officers. The results showed that there could be no problem for the court system or law enforcement officers. These studies were conducted on the effect of lowering the BAC to 0.08% from 0.10%, and they can also apply when it has to be lowered to 0.05 from 0.08%.
Even though cases of DUI arrests will increase, the numbers will not overstretch the court system or even the capacity of the police officers to handle. They are still duty-bound and must have a good reason to stop suspect drivers and test whether they are drunk. Moreover, it is worth remembering that just as the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) are valid at a BAC of 0.05%, they are also valid at a BAC of 0.08% and a BAC of 0.10%.
A Lower BAC Level is a Smart Move for California Residents
Having the BAC limit lowered to 0.05% from 0.08% will have California residents experience fewer fatal accidents on the road, and this means that many lives will be saved. However, if you are charged with a DUI with a BAC of 0.05% it will be more difficult for a DUI Lawyer to fight against the charges.
At the start of the implementation of lowering the BAC limit, there could be many arrests, but as time goes, residents will have to adjust their lifestyle to comply with the new law. Once that happens, the number of DUI arrests will go down.

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