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DUI Defenders: NTSB Recommends Lower BAC Limit, Other Changes

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By William Peacock, Esq. on May 14, 2013 3:58 PM

DUI defense lawyers: do you need more clients? Cross your fingers, because they could be coming in droves.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a number of recommendations on Tuesday that could change DUI law completely, including the recommendation that states adopt a drunk driving threshold of 0.05. The implications are obvious: more "drunk" drivers, presumably fewer accidents, and of course, more business for lawyers.

How Drunk is Drunk?

According to The New York Times, the current universal limit of 0.08 was adopted by all fifty states and the District of Columbia after President Bill Clinton signed a bill in 2000 that conditioned highway funding on adopting the lower limit. However, the standard in most of the industrialized world is even lower — at 0.05 percent.

How many drinks is 0.05? That depends on the drinker’s gender, weight, and the concentration of the booze. Let’s look at people of average height, and ideal weight (per BMI):

  • A 5’4.6” woman, at 123 pounds, could have one beer;
  • A 5’10.2” man, at 151 pounds, would be at or near the limit at two beers.

(Sidebar: BMI can die, painfully, in an inferno.)

In other words, the proposed limit would mean don’t drive after any drinks.

Will it Happen?

Who knows? One would expect resistance, given the means taken (highway bribery) to force states into adopting 0.08. Then again, some of the NTSB’s other recommendations, like ignition interlock devices for first-timers, seem to be catching on. According to the Associated Press, seventeen states now require IIDs for all offenders. Four California counties (not two, silly AP writer!) also require the devices as part of a pilot program that could spread statewide.

Another Idea: the Baby DUI

Given the rise in punishments for first-time offenders, and the effect of a lowered limit (a lot more first-time offenders who arguably, aren’t intoxicated), another idea might be a new class of DUI offense: the baby DUI.

California already has this, to a limited extent. For first-time offenders, with low BAC readings and no aggravating circumstances (accidents, speeding, etc.), prosecutors can offer the “wet reckless” plea bargain, colloquially referred to by some as the “Baby DUI.” It means less probation, a smaller fine, and no jail time.

Proposed legislation similar to the “wet reckless,” or perhaps an even more lenient variant, might be a worthwhile compromise for first-time offenders with a BAC of 0.05 to 0.08.

NTSB’s Other Ideas

Increased enforcement of ignition interlock laws. Requiring IIDs for suspected (read: not yet convicted) drunk drivers. Increased use of passive alcohol devices, which can detect alcohol from feet away and create reasonable suspicion of intoxication. And, of course, passive ignition interlock devices that can detect booze, and disable a car, without the driver blowing into the tube. Ideally, these would come on all new cars.

Like ‘em or not, the NTSB’s ideas could influence future DUI laws. If they do, be prepared for the influx of clients with “baby DUIs” and ignition interlock violations.

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