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Foss: Lowering the BAC a good idea

Foss: Lowering the BAC a good idea

Measure would save lives
Foss: Lowering the BAC a good idea

My favorite bars are the ones I can walk to. 

The reason for this is simple: I don't have to worry about how I'm going to get home, or wonder what my blood alcohol concentration is. I don't have to call a taxi, or an Uber, or take the bus. 

In a perfect world, people intent on drinking alcohol wouldn't drive to bars and restaurants. 

They'd use public transportation instead, or enlist a member of their party to serve as a designated driver, or be prepared to summon a driver. Perhaps they'd restrict their bar-hopping and dining to restaurants and bars in their neighborhood. 

We don't live in a perfect world, which goes a long way toward explaining why more than 10,000 people are killed by alcohol-impaired drivers each year in the U.S. Despite countless campaigns highlighting the dangers of drinking and driving, a lot of people persist in getting behind the wheel when they've had a few too many. 

As a result, there's now a movement to lower the blood alcohol level for drunk driving from .08 to .05. In New York, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz has introduced a bill that would make this lower BAC threshold the law of the land. 

Lowering the BAC isn't popular -- it faces fierce opposition from the alcohol, bar and restaurant industries, for one thing -- but it's a good idea that would save lives. 

At least, that's what the National Traffic Safety Board and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have concluded, and these conclusions are rooted in science. 

A number of studies have shown that an individual's ability to operate a motor vehicle begins to deteriorate at lower levels of blood alcohol concentration. 

These drivers might not be as drunk as people who blow a .08 or higher on a breathalyzer test, but they can still cause problems on the road. 

According to a study on the effectiveness of a 0.05 BAC limit for driving from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, "The risk of being involved in a crash increases significantly at 0.05 BAC and above." 

The study also notes that in most industrialized countries the BAC limit is 0.05, and that countries that lowered their illegal blood concentration limit from .08 to .05 saw a corresponding decline in traffic fatalities. 

Those opposed to lowering the legal believe it would unnecessarily punish casual drinkers who aren't much of a risk, while doing nothing to crackdown on heavier drinkers who are far more dangerous. 

Unfortunately, the research suggests that these casual drinkers do pose a risk, and are much more likely to cause a crash than non-drinkers. 

According to the NCBI study, the "relative risk of being killed in a single-vehicle crash with BACs of 0.05-0.079 is seven to 21 times higher than for drivers with a BAC of zero." 

Of course, it isn't enough to lower the drunken driving threshold. 

If we're serious about getting drunk drivers off the roads, we need to improve our public transportation networks and create walkable communities. We need to promote the idea that walking to a bar is normal, and that every drinker should have a way to get home that doesn't involve driving themselves. 

In short, we need to make it easy for people to get where they want to go without using a car. 

In my experience, drinking is more fun when you take driving out of the equation.

If we lower the BAC, I suspect more people will discover the joys of drinking and not driving. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.

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