Science panel calls for lowering drunken-driving threshold

Every day in the United States, 29 people die and many more are hurt in alcohol-related traffic accidents. But we could lower those numbers by lowering the drunken-driving threshold, according to a prestigious scientific panel.

Right now, drivers across the country are prohibited from driving with a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, at .08 or above. A government-commissioned report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggests lowering the BAC legal limit to .05.

"Our members overwhelmingly—64 percent—say that they are in favor of lowering the blood alcohol concentration limit for those who would be considered drunk," Robert Sinclair Jr. of AAA Northeast said.

Sinclair said that countries that lowered their BAC limits saw a drop in alcohol-related traffic deaths.

"Without a doubt it would improve safety and in fact it would enable the United States to catch up with the rest of the world," Sinclair said. "More than 100 countries globally have lowered the blood alcohol content that would be considered drunk behind the wheel to .05."

Blood alcohol concentration depends on a number factors, such as a person's weight and gender and how recently they've eaten. A .05 BAC limit could mean a very thin person would be in violation after just one drink.

The beverage and restaurant industries are strongly opposed to a lower BAC. The American Beverage Institute said that changing the law would be an attack on restaurants and hospitality and would target moderate responsible drinkers.

"We all want to save lives, but lowering the legal limit from 0.08 to 0.05 BAC will not accomplish that goal," American Beverage Institute managing director Sarah Longwell said. "While a vast majority of alcohol-related fatalities involve drivers with BACs of .15 and above, very few occur between the newly targeted interval of .05 and .08 BAC."

Individual states set their own BAC limits. Utah is the only state, so far, to lower its BAC limit for drivers to .05. That law takes effect at the end of 2018.