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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended on Tuesday that all 50 states adopt a blood-alcohol content (BAC) “legal limit” of 0.05 compared to the 0.08 used by all states, including South Carolina. A lower BAC threshold for DUI charges is part of a safety board initiative outlined in a staff report and approved by the panel in an effort to eliminate drunk driving. The board acknowledged that there was "no silver bullet" curbing DUI, but that more action is needed at the federal and state levels. The NTSB says lowering the BAC limit will save lives in the long-run.
The NTSB investigates transportation accidents and advocates on safety issues. It cannot create regulations, but can recommend changes to federal and state agencies or legislatures, including Congress. However, the independent agency is influential on matters of public safety and its decisions can spur action from like-minded legislators nationwide. States set their own BAC standards in their DUI laws.
The board also pushing for DUI laws that allow police to swiftly confiscate licenses from drivers who exceed the blood alcohol limits, as well as DUI laws that require those convicted of first-offense DUI to have ignition locking devices installed in their cars.
"I think .05 is going to come. How long it takes to get there, we don't know. But it will happen," said the NTSB's Robert Molloy, who helped guide the staff report.
The NTSB cited research that showed most drivers experience a decline in both cognitive and visual functions with a BAC of 0.05.
A restaurant trade association, the American Beverage Institute, attacked the main recommendation, saying the average woman reaches 0.05 percent BAC after consuming one drink. The group said it based that conclusion on a chart it said was used by auto safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
But NHTSA told CNN on Tuesday it no longer uses that chart "as there are many variables" that contribute to an individual's level of intoxication. A new NHTSA chart shows a person with a 0.05 BAC level experiences "reduced coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering, (and) reduced response to emergency driving situations."
The board recommended more widespread use of “passive alcohol sensors,” which police can use to "sniff" the air during a traffic stop to determine the presence of alcohol. The sensor is capable of detecting alcohol even in cases where the driver has attempted to disguise his breathe with gum or mints. If the sensor alerts, it is grounds for more thorough testing.