Blood Alcohol Concentration Limit for Driving

WHEREAS critical driving performance is significantly impaired at blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of 0.05 g/dL and above,

WHEREAS the risk of being involved in a crash increases significantly at BACs equal to or exceeding 0.05 g/dL,

WHEREAS lowering the illegal BAC limit for driving to 0.05 g/dL reduces alcohol-related crashes,

WHEREAS lowering the BAC limit to 0.05 g/dL has the potential to save lives if countries adopt it,

BE IT RESOLVED that the AAAM recommends that the United States and all countries with BAC limits above 0.05g/dL adopt a maximum BAC of 0.05 g/dL as the legal limit for driving.

Adopted: October 2009, updated October 2017

BLOOD ALCOHOL CONCENTRATION LIMIT FOR DRIVING: BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Rationale

  • Virtually all drivers are impaired with regard to driving performance at .05 BAC. Laboratory and test track research shows that the vast majority of drivers, even experienced drinkers who typically reach BACs of .15 or greater, are impaired at .05 BAC and higher with regard to critical driving tasks. There are significant decrements in performance in areas such as braking, steering, lane changing, judgment and divided attention at .05 BAC. Some studies report that performance decrements in some of these tasks are as high as 30%-50% at .05 BAC (Ferrara et al., 1994; Howat et al., 1991; Moskowitz et al., 2000; Moskowitz & Fiorentino, 2000).
  • The risk of being involved in a crash increases significantly at .05 BAC. The risk of being involved in a crash increases at each positive BAC level, but rises very rapidly after a driver reaches or exceeds .05 BAC compared to drivers with no alcohol in their blood systems. Recent studies indicate that the relative risk of being killed in a single vehicle crash for drivers with BACs of .05 to .079 is at least 7 times that of drivers at .00 BAC (no alcohol) and could be as much as 21 times that of drivers at .00 BAC depending upon the age of the driver (Voas et al., 2012; Zador et al., 2000). These risks are significant.
  • Lowering the illegal per se limit to .05 BAC is a proven effective countermeasure which has reduced alcohol-related traffic fatalities in several countries, most notably, Australia. While studies in Europe and Australia each use a different methodology to evaluate these effects, the evidence is consistent and persuasive that fatal and injury crashes involving drinking drivers decrease on the order of at least 5% – 8% and up to 18% after a country lowers their illegal BAC limit from .08 to .05 BAC (Brooks & Zaal, 1993; Homel, 1994; Nagata et al., 2008). A meta-analysis of international studies on lowering the BAC limit in general found a 5.0 percent decline in non-fatal alcohol-related crashes, a 9.2 percent decline in fatal alcohol-related crashes from lowering the BAC from .10 to .08, and an 11.1 percent decline in fatal alcohol-related crashes from lowering the BAC to .05 or lower. The study estimated that 1,790 lives would be saved each year if all states in the United States adopted a .05 BAC limit (Fell & Scherer, 2017 in press).
  • .05 BAC is a reasonable standard to set. A .05 BAC is not typically reached with a couple of beers after work or with a glass of wine or two with dinner. It takes at least 4 drinks for the average 170 lb. male to exceed .05 BAC in two hours on an empty stomach (3 drinks for the 137 lb. female). The BAC level reached depends upon a person’s age, gender, weight, whether there is food in their stomach, and their metabolism rate (NHTSA, 1994). No matter how many drinks it takes to reach .05 BAC, people at this level are too impaired to drive safely (McKnight et al., 2002).
  • The public supports levels below .08 BAC. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) surveys show that most people would not drive after consuming two or three drinks in an hour and believe the limit should be no higher than the BAC level associated with that (Royal, 2000). That would be .05 BAC or lower for most drivers. A recent survey indicated that 63% of drivers in the US support lowering the illegal BAC from .08 to .05 (Arnold & Tefft, 2016).
  • Most industrialized nations around the world have set BAC limits at .05 BAC or lower. All States in Australia now have a .05 BAC limit. France, Austria, Italy, Spain and Germany lowered their limit to .05 BAC, while Sweden, Norway, Japan and Russia have set their limit at .02 BAC (WHO, 2013).
  • Further progress is needed in reducing alcohol-impaired driving. Progress in reducing impaired driving has stalled over the past 20 years in several countries (Dang, 2008; Fell et al., 2016). Lowering the BAC limit from .08 to .05 will serve as a general deterrent to all those who drink and drive that the government is getting tougher on impaired driving and society will not tolerate impaired drivers (Fell and Voas, 2014). Such legislation typically reduces the number of drinking drivers involved in fatal crashes at all BAC levels (BACs>.01; BACs>.05; BACs>.08; BACs>.15) (Voas et al., 2000; Wagenaar et al., 2007; Hingson et al., 1996).

REFERENCES

Arnold, LS and Tefft, BC (2016). Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and Marijuana: Beliefs and Behaviors, United States, 2013-2015. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Washington, DC, May 2016, 1-19.

Brooks C, Zaal D (1993) Effects of a reduced alcohol limit in driving, in Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety, Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety (Utzelmann HD, Berghous G, Kroj G eds), pp 860-865, Verlag TÜV Rheinland, Cologne, Germany.

Dang, Jennifer N. (2008). Statistical analysis of alcohol-related driving trends, 1982-2005. (DOT HS 810 942). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/810942.pdf.

Fell, James C and Voas, Robert B (2014). The effectiveness of a 0.05 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for driving in the United States. Addiction, 109; 869-874.

Fell, James C., Beirness, Douglas J., Voas, Robert B., Smith, Gordon S., Jonah, Brian, Maxwell, Jane C., Price, Jana, Hedlund, James. (2016). Can Progress in Reducing Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities be Resumed? Results of a Workshop sponsored by the Transportation Research Board, Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Transportation Committee (ANB50). Traffic Injury Prevention, 17(8), 771-781. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15389588.2016.1157592

Fell, James C. and Scherer, Michael (2017 in press). Estimation of the Potential Effectiveness of Lowering the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limit for Driving from .08 to .05 grams per deciliter in the United States. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, December 2017.

Ferrara, S.D., Zancaner, S., and Georgetti, R. (1994). Low blood alcohol levels and driving impairment. A review of experimental studies and international legislation. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 106(4), 169-177.

Hingson, R., Heeren, T., and Winter, M. (1996). Lowering state legal blood alcohol limits to 0.08 percent:  The effect on fatal motor vehicle crashes. American Journal of Public Health, 86(9), 1297-1299.

Homel R (1994) Drink-driving law enforcement and the legal blood alcohol limit in New South Wales. Accident Analysis and Prevention 26:147-155.

Howat, P., Sleet, D., and Smith, I. (1991). Alcohol and driving: Is the 0.05% blood alcohol concentration limit justified? Drug and Alcohol Review, 10, 151-166.

McKnight, A.J., Langston, E., McKnight, A.S., and Lange, J. (2002). Sobriety tests for low blood alcohol concentrations. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 34(3), 305-311.

Moskowitz, H., Burns, M., Fiorentino, D., Smiley, A., and Zador, P. (2000). Driver characteristics and impairment at various BACs. (DOT HS 809 075). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Moskowitz, H., and Fiorentino, D. (2000). A review of the literature on the effects of low doses of alcohol on driving-related skills. (DOT HS 809 028). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Nagata T, Setoguchi S, Hemenway D, Perry M (2008) Effectiveness of a law to reduce alcohol-impaired driving in Japan. Injury Prevention 14:19-23.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (1994). Computing a BAC Estimate. US Department of Transportation, Washington, DC.

Royal, D. (2000 December). National survey of drinking and driving: Attitudes and behavior: 1999 (DOT HS 809 190 – Vol. I: Findings). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Teutsch, SM, Geller, A & Negussie, Y (2018). Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities: A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem. Committee on Accelerating Progress to Reduce Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities, National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, The National Academies Press, Washington, DC. Doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/24951

Voas, R.B., Tippetts, A.S., and Fell, J.C. (2000). The relationship of alcohol safety laws to drinking drivers in fatal crashes. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 32(4), 483-492.

Voas, Robert B., Torres, Pedro, Romano, E., and Lacey, John H. (2012). Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: An update using 2007 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 73(3), 341-350.

World Health Organization (2013). List of countries’ BAC limits for driving: World Health Organization; 2013. Available online: http://apps.who.int/gho/athena/data/GHO/SA_0000001520.html?profile=ztable&filter=COUNTRY:*;BACGROUP:*. Last accessed on May 9, 2013.

Wagenaar, A., Maldonado-Molina, M., Ma, L., Tobler, A., and Komro, K. (2007). Effects of legal BAC limits on fatal crash involvement: Analyses of 28 states from 1976 through 2002. Journal of Safety Research, 38, 493-499.

Zador, Paul L., Krawchuk, Shelia A., and Voas, Robert B. (2000). Alcohol-related relative risk of driver fatalities and driver involvement in fatal crashes in relation to driver age and gender: An update using 1996 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 61(3), 387-395.