NTSB wants to lower the legal limit to .05

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - If you've ever had a glass of wine or two and thought that you were safe to drive home, that might all be changing. A controversial recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would lower the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit from .08 to .05, making it even stricter.

Opponents of the plan are calling it ludicrous.

We're told that, for some women, one or two glasses of wine could put them over this proposed legal limit, so we ran our own unscientific test to see how many drinks it really takes to get someone past that proposed .05 mark. What we found may shock you.

Drunk drivers take around 10,000 lives each year in this country. When it comes to enforcement, is there such a thing as going too far to stop drinking and driving? Some say yes.

Sarah Longwell, director of the American Beverage Institute, said, "This is a ludicrous idea that would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior."

However, Bill Bell, director of the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety disagrees. "Well, the evidence that the NTSB has is that people are impaired at .05," he said. "That's the bottom line."

A report released by the NTSB says if all 50 states changed their standard to .05, nearly 1,000 lives could be saved each year.

We reviewed the federal data for the most recent year, which shows that 21 percent of fatal accidents involved drivers who were legally drunk. Only two percent involved were in that .05 to .08 range that the NTSB now wants to be the new legal limit.

Here in Virginia, the average BAC of drivers arrested for being over the legal limit is .14, which is nearly twice the current legal limit.

How easy is it to drink enough to reach a BAC of .05? We found two volunteers from the restaurant industry - Andrea Stoneman and Dustin Kohn - who agreed to be part of our test.

They both showed no signs of alcohol in their systems when we started. Then Stoneman drank a vodka and cranberry juice and Kohn drank a 9% India Pale Ale beer over a period of 30 minutes. We waited another 20 minutes after they finished, and then tested their BAC again.

Andrea said she felt impaired after that one drink, and she was right. In fact, after one drink each, both had reached the legal limit of .08.

"You would assume you could have two drinks and be in that range, but apparently you can have one," Kohn said.

"I am really surprised," Stoneman said. "I thought I was going to blow a .04 or .05."

We want to point out that a test like this depends on a person's height, weight, how much food they ate, how often they drank and what they drank. What the test showed was still surprising, even to MADD Virginia's Manager, Chris Konschak.

"One drink isn't typically, from what we've seen, going to cause somebody to be impaired, but sometimes it can happen," he said. "You never know how much alcohol is going to get you impaired."

The NTSB says it's up to all 50 states to make the change, and then it's up to the federal government to endorse it. So far, in Virginia, no bills have been introduced to change the limit.

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