A proposal released by the National Transportation Safety Board today to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit to .05 percent was met with mixed reaction in the Bay Area and nationwide.

The NTSB voted today to lower the limit for a drunken driving arrest from the current standard of .08 percent in an effort to reduce the approximately 10,000 DUI deaths annually.

In a report released today, the federal agency suggests the lower DUI threshold could save between 500 and 800 lives each year.

“Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. “Alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented.”

The decision to impose a lower DUI limit would be up to each state. In California, the legal threshold was lowered from .10 to .08 percent in 1990, about seven years after Utah became the first state to adopt the lower limit.

Few groups in the Bay Area were eager to embrace today’s recommendation.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, gave the proposal a tepid endorsement.

Mary Klotzbach, MADD’s national public policy chairwoman and a Livermore resident, said the organization is “excited the NTSB is bringing publicity to the issue” of drunken driving but “supports what the law is currently.”

She said MADD is focusing their energy on its campaign to eliminate drunk driving completely rather than pushing for a lower blood-alcohol content level.

That campaign, which began in 2006, emphasizes the use of new technology such as the installation of ignition interlock devices for DUI offenders and greater police visibility in the form of DUI checkpoints and other safeguards.

“What we have is the campaign, and the campaign is working,” she said. “We’re staying focused on that.”
Bruce Kapsack, a Bay Area DUI attorney, said he doesn’t believe the NTSB’s proposal is backed by solid scientific evidence.

“Not everyone is impaired for driving at .05 percent,” he said.

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, a woman weighing around 120 pounds can reach the proposed .05 percent blood-alcohol threshold after one drink. A man weighing up to 160 pounds would pass that level after two drinks.

Kapsack noted that during his two-decade career as a DUI attorney, he has not seen any cases where the responsible person had a blood-alcohol content level below .08 percent.

Laura Dixon, Bay City News

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