My Turn: People should not drive while impaired

The Feb. 27 “My Turn” column opposing legislation to lower the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit in the state to .05% comes from an organization that is funded by members of the alcohol and hospitality industry and has never supported lower BAC limits. Shortly before the Senate passage of Senate Bill (SB) 2234 to enact a 0.05% BAC limit statewide, the same organization used the same misdirected scare tactics it employed when it opposed nationwide efforts to lower BAC from 0.10 to 0.08% in the late 1990s.

Focusing on highly intoxicated drivers and distracted drivers, and falsely claiming that the purpose of a 0.05% BAC law is to throw people in jail, obscures the point of the effort, which is to deter drunken driving. Bottom line: people should not drive while impaired.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at 0.05% BAC, drivers are measurably impaired and suffer reduced coordination, weakened ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering and diminished response to emergency driving situations. Drivers with BACs of 0.05 to 0.079% are at an increased risk, at least seven times that of drivers with no measurable alcohol, of being involved in a fatal crash. Forty-five people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in Hawaii in 2018, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). They comprise nearly 40% of all traffic crashes which cost Hawaii taxpayers over $575 million annually. Clearly, drunk driving is a deadly and costly problem that requires urgent attention and action.

Opponents of 0.05% BAC laws falsely claim the policy does nothing to deter the worst drunk driving offenders. However, research finds a broad deterrent effect that reduces the incidence of drunk driving at all levels of intoxication including high BACs. In fact, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine identified lowering BAC limits to 0.05% as a key recommendation in its comprehensive report, Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities: A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem. It also notes the change could save 1,500 lives annually.

Throughout the world, approximately 100 countries have some type of 0.05% or lower BAC policy. Studies in those countries show that lower BAC limits do not correlate with decreased alcohol consumption or higher arrest rates. In the U.S., the state of Utah began enforcing a 0.05% BAC law on Dec. 30, 2018, and has not experienced the negative impacts on tourism or decreased alcohol consumption predicted by the law’s opponents.

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While much progress has been made, drunk driving remains the largest single contributor to road fatalities, responsible for approximately 30% of all traffic deaths over the last ten years. It is time to implement proven countermeasures that have yet to be widely employed in our Nation but are strongly supported by the public. If all states adopted a 0.05% BAC or lower law, it is estimated that the U.S. would experience an 11% decline in fatal alcohol-involved crashes. SB 2234, as passed by the Senate, is a strong, clear measure that we urge the state House of Representatives to advance intact and quickly. Let’s not let baseless information get in the way of lifesaving progress.

This My Turn includes multiple authors: Cathy Chase, president, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety; Honorable T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, former vice chair, National Transportation Safety Board and co-founder of .05 Saves Lives Coalition; Marcus Kowal and Mishel Eder, co-founders of Liam’s Life Foundation; Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council; and Helen Witty, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).