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Posted at 4:11 p.m. on Aug. 13, 2014
Since 2004, all states have had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of 0.08 as the legal standard for driving while impaired.
But driving after drinking still imposes massive costs, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reminded Americans Wednesday. With the Labor Day holiday two weeks away, NHTSA launched its annual “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign along with local police officials. The enforcement crackdown runs from August 15 through the Labor Day weekend.
A 300-page NHTSA study released in May reported that alcohol-involved crashes resulted in 13,323 fatalities, 430,000 nonfatal injuries, and nearly $60 billion in economic costs in 2010.
NHTSA researchers estimated that alcohol-involved crashes resulted in $242.6 billion in comprehensive costs in 2010 – a calculation that attempted to quantify both the direct costs of accidents (medical care, insurance costs, etc.) and the value of lost quality of life experienced by crash victims.
But the NHTSA report does note some progress: “Historically, approximately half of all motor vehicle fatalities have occurred in crashes where the drivers or nonoccupants had been drinking, but this number has gradually declined in recent years to about 40 percent.”
The NHTSA study also noted that drivers with levels lower than 0.08 BAC also have an increased risk of accidents: at .04 BAC the risk of a crash is 18 percent higher than at zero BAC.
Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended lowering the standard from 0.08 to 0.05.
The Board said, “Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels higher than 0.05 are viewed by respected traffic safety and public health organizations around the world as posing unacceptable risk for driving, and more than 100 countries have already established per se BAC limits at or below 0.05.”
The NTSB said that fatal crashes decreased by 18 percent in the Australian state of Queensland and by 8 percent in New South Wales after those states lowered their BAC limits from 0.08 to 0.05.