It is the weekend and workers are ready to let off some steam. All across America people leave work on Friday evening and head to “happy hour” at bars and restaurants. They have some cocktails, maybe then follow that with wine at dinner. Perhaps they have an after dinner drink with their desert. By the time the night is over many dig keys out of their pockets or purses and then head out to the car to go home. If this doesn’t shake you up and scare you there is something wrong with this picture.
On Tuesday the National Transportation Safety Board urged states to adopt a new definition of drunken driving – lowering the blood-alcohol level from 0.08% to 0.05%. This recommendation comes as alcohol-related traffic deaths jumped last year to 10,000. Anyone who has lost a friend or loved one to a drunk driver will tell you that even one death is too many, but obviously something is happening to have the figure increase after six years of declining alcohol-related deaths in traffic accidents.
I would argue that the NTSB’s suggested level is too high. Consider that a woman weighing around 120 pounds could drink a glass or two of wine and drive and still not be considered drunk. A man of significantly more weight (let’s say 200 pounds) could consume three to four glasses of wine and still not meet that level. Unfortunately, impairment begins with the first sip, and alcohol affects everyone differently.
I have had the opportunity to be the “designated” driver, and it is amazing how when one is sipping club soda that the effects of drinking become obvious rather quickly. I can say unequivocally that in these moments I have seen changes in my friends even after a few sips of an intoxicating beverage. There is also the matter of whether or not they are taking medication, eating while drinking, and just their individual level of tolerance. In the end, any amount of alcohol could affect a driver’s ability to react in a situation and cause an accident.
As would be expected, a recommendation of a level of 0.05% has the restaurant and beverage industries crying foul. Sarah Longwell, of the American Beverage Institute, said that the recommendation is ludicrous because the prime drunken drivers are not in “the .08 to .05% range” and that authorities should focus on the “biggest boozers” that are well over the .08% level. Isn’t this just what we need in society – more enablers?
As of now Mothers Against Drunk Driving has not endorsed the NTSB’s new proposal, and all along MADD has emphasized that the government should enhance technology (car ignition breathalyzers for instance) and an increase in sobriety checkpoints all across the country. I have great respect for MADD and believe its members have done great work, but I think they are missing a golden opportunity here. They should not only endorse the lower standard but even go further – I believe the most logical and safest of all blood alcohol levels is 0%. There has to be a realization here that drinking alcohol (in any amount) and driving is unacceptable and absolutely illegal.
Let’s look at some statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services. Alcohol is involved in 37% of all traffic deaths of persons 16 – 20 years of age. Considering the drinking age is 21, that is a mind numbing figure; furthermore, 17% of traffic deaths involving children 0-14 years of age were due to an alcohol impaired driver. These numbers are totally unacceptable and are a salient reason that something more needs to be done as soon as possible.
Zero Tolerance Laws (for those drinking under the age of 21) reduce over 1,000 alcohol-related traffic deaths a year. It doesn’t take a long and expensive study to indicate that expansion of “zero tolerance” for all drivers, not just those under 21, would have a profound effect on the number of alcohol-related deaths. Of course, there will always be those who still grab the keys and think they are super drivers, even while drinking. That is why besides zero tolerance even more steps need to be taken.