Traffic safety advocates, experts and researchers should not be surprised by the American Beverage Institute’s (ABI) latest op-ed opposing efforts to lower the legal limit of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) while driving from .08 percent to .05 percent.
The piece, penned by the American Beverage Institute’s Richard Berman in the April 29, 2019, edition of The Washington Times, targets proposed laws in California and Michigan, and makes the same discredited claims ABI made back when they opposed lowering BAC from .10 percent to .08 percent. Making this national policy change has saved an estimated 1,736 lives annually.
When you stick with the facts on what .05 percent blood alcohol concentration policy is and what it does, it is abundantly clear why this proven countermeasure is urgently needed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at .05 percent BAC, drivers are measurably impaired and suffer reduced coordination, weakened ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering and diminished response to emergency driving situations. Lowering the BAC from .10 to .08 percent has reduced drunk driving at all levels of impairment, including the high levels cited in ABI’s op-ed.
Approximately 100 countries have some type of .05 percent or lower blood alcohol concentration law. Research has shown these laws have a broad deterrent effect. The measure’s strength is that it changes behavior and reduces the incidence of drunk driving. The lifesaving potential is significant. In fact, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine identified lowering BAC limits to .05 percent as a key recommendation in its comprehensive report, Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities: A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem, and notes the change could save 1,500 lives annually.
The American Beverage Institute’s recent op-ed specifically targets the work of National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago Research Scientist Jim Fell, whose widely published, peer-reviewed research on alcohol-impaired driving is highly regarded by the public health and safety community. To highlight one example of ABI’s mischaracterization, the false claim is made that Mr. Fell’s analysis of the life-saving potential of lower BAC laws relies on flawed studies that did not include a “control group.” However, according to Mr. Fell, the studies included in his analysis either used non-drinking drivers as their control group or auto regressive integrated moving average before and after analyses, all of which are acceptable in this kind of research and by the peer reviewers who have repeatedly validated Mr. Fell’s work prior to it being published in scientific journals.
The American Beverage Institute’s opposition and efforts to misdirect stoke a fear that such laws will discourage drinking. However, there is no evidence that these laws reduce overall alcohol consumption. The best available evidence finds the only thing these laws reduce is drunk driving, which is the goal of legislation pending in California, Michigan and New York and should be the goal of every state in the nation.
Measurable change comes from effective leadership implementing data-driven, research-backed countermeasures such as .05 percent blood alcohol concentration policy. Progress in the fight against drunk driving has been stalled for decades, and new, proven solutions are urgently needed. It is not a question of whether .05 percent BAC should be advanced versus other proven solutions.
Rather, .05 percent blood alcohol concentration should be included in the countermeasures being employed. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, FIA Foundation, Liam’s Life Foundation, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, National Safety Council, National Transportation Safety Board, .05 Saves Lives Coalition and many other organizations who support .05 percent BAC policy have been consistent on this point. Far too much is at stake to not to advance lifesaving strategies.
• Cathy Chase is president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Jennifer Homendy is a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board.