NTSB encourages Florida to adopt lower illegal blood alcohol level

Many of us remember the Congressional incentive of more than a decade ago that withheld federal highway funds unless states adopted a 0.08 legal standard for driver intoxication behind the wheel. The purpose of the legislation was to lower the incidence of car accidents caused by drinking and driving. Recently, the federal National Transportation Safety Board adopted the recommendation that all states, including Florida, lower the legal blood alcohol standard from 0.08 to 0.05 to further prevent accidents caused by drivers under the influence.

The NTSB made the recommendation at a time it says when progress on lowering drunk driving accidents has stalled. According to the NTSB, there were nearly 10,000 fatalities in the U.S. caused by drunk driving last year. The head of the agency says that zero deaths caused by drinking and driving is the ultimate goal of its policy.

Blood-alcohol concentration is influenced by a variety of factors including weight, gender and food consumption and therefore can vary individual to individual. In general, a man who weighs 180 pounds and consumes four beers within 90 minutes would be within the current legal standard; however, under the lower standard of 0.05 the same man could only legally drink three beers. Similarly, a 130-pound woman could likely consume three drinks in 90 minutes and remain legal under the 0.08 standard but could legally only have two drinks under the stricter standard.

Under the current law in Florida a driver is legally intoxicated and can be charged with a DUI if the driver's blood alcohol content is 0.08 or higher. However, a driver with a lower blood alcohol level may also be charged with drinking driving if there is evidence the driver is impaired. Evidence of impairment includes slurred speech, erratic driving or failing a field sobriety test.

While the federal agency is not a legislative body and cannot force state legislators in Florida or in other states to adopt the recommendation, the agency can use the recommendation as a tool of public safety advocacy. As of yet, legislators in Florida have not proposed lowering the legal standard of intoxication behind the wheel.

The NTSB claims that if the lower standard were adopted the risk of getting into a drunk driving crash would be cut in half. Opponents of the recommendation, like the industry trade group the American Beverage Institute, believe the lower standard would criminalize social behavior. The standard across much of the world is 0.05, but lowering the limit last time in the United States from 0.10 to 0.08 took more than 20 years from when first proposed.

If you have been charged with drinking and driving charges, contact a criminal defense attorney experienced in DUI to best represent your interests and guide you through the legal process.