Tahlequah Daily Press

May 16, 2013

Feds mull lowering blood-alcohol cutoff to .05

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Federal safety investigators are encouraging all states to lower the existing blood-alcohol content cutoff of .08 to .05, and local authorities have varying opinions on the request.

The National Transportation Safety Board made its recommendation Tuesday, but admitted there is “no silver bullet” for eliminating alcohol-related crashes.

Drunk driving is responsible for about a third of the fatalities on U.S. roads, with 10,000 people dying in alcohol-related crashes every year. Board members believe states, along with the federal government, need to do more to reduce the risks of alcohol-related crashes.

Tahlequah Chief of Police Nate King said measurable amounts of alcohol affect the way a person’s mind and body work. With more and more people on the road, King believes the likelihood of being involved in a crash is high – and alcohol only increases those risks.

“I do not have a problem lowering the limit to .05,” King said.

Should Oklahoma legislators make that move, King said Tahlequah officers will enforce the law.

Cherokee County Sheriff Norman Fisher said deputies will enforce any decision made by the state on the legal limit. But he believes lowering the limit could have important consequences, including a higher jail population.

“There would be a lot more arrests, and your jail populations would go up,” said Fisher. “I think the .08 level has worked well.”

Fisher said the high population of college-aged students in Cherokee County leads to an increased chance of alcohol-related crashes and arrests. He said many young people want to experiment with alcohol when they leave home, but getting in trouble one time often sets them straight.

“It’s not about how many arrests you’ve made, but about getting the offenders to see what they’re doing is wrong and getting them back on the right track,” said Fisher. “If you arrest 50 people and can get just one person back on track, you’re doing the right thing.”

If faced with a vote, Fisher said he would likely choose to have a .08 BAC level rather than a .05.

According to the NTSB, lowering the BAC from .08 to .05 would save anywhere from 500 to 800 lives every year.

Information published by the University of Oklahoma’s blood-alcohol calculator indicates a 180-pound man could reach a .08 limit after four drinks over an hour’s time; and the same person could reach the .05 limit after two to three drinks in an hour. A woman weighing less than 120 pounds could hit .05 with one drink. That changes based on the type of drink and how much alcohol it contains.

According to a study by the University of California in San Diego, having a .01-percent blood-alcohol concentration – which might be referred to as “buzzed driving” – can increase the odds of a deadly collision. For some adults, that would equate to less than half a beer.