The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

May 15, 2013

Local officials react to feds proposal to lower blood-alcohol limits

A proposal Tuesday to lower the legal limit for drunk driving would save 1,000 lives a year according to the federal agency making the recommendation.

The National Transportation Safety Board voted Tuesday to recommend that all 50 states lower from 0.08 to 0.05 the blood-alcohol concentration that constitutes drunk driving.

The NTSB is an investigative safety agency that has no authority to order changes to state or federal law. Each state would have to decide whether to accept the NTSB’s recommendation, then each state’s Department of Transportation would have to decide whether to endorse it. Some key Athens and Limestone County law-enforcement official weighed in on the issue Tuesday.

District attorney

Limestone County district Attorney Brian Jones supports lowering the limit.

“The NTSB are the experts in this area,” he said. “I think that they have done a lot of research, and we look forward to any change the state of Alabama would implement towards lowering the impairment threshold.”

He does not believe a proposed 0.05 limit would be too low.

“Research shows that impairment begins with the first drink,” he said. “By 0.05 BAC, most drivers experience a decline in both cognitive and visual functions, which significantly increases the risk of a serious crash. Currently, more than 100 countries on six continents have BAC limits set at 0.05 or lower.” 

Each time the states lower the allowable BAC, “more people who are impaired are taken off the road to the betterment of our community,” Jones said.

Lowering the limit would not be a problem for his office, he said.

“Not at all. Through pretrial diversion and jail, our office has an aggressive stance toward DUI and we will continue to prosecute according to the laws that we are given.”

Police chief 

Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson also supports lowering the limit, if amenable to state lawmakers. 

“I do believe one death that is preventable is one too many,” Johnson said. “Everyone handles alcohol differently and, unfortunately, some make the choice to drive when they have been drinking. I have been involved with several families over the years that have lost loved ones in accidents that involved alcohol. I expect in all those cases the families would support lowering the legal limit. Our department will enforce the laws of Alabama as the legislative branch sees fit to make them. Our officers are trained to detect a driver that has had too much to drink and I don’t believe it would cause any issues enforcing lower limits.”

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