July 20, 2018
The Honorable Bob Latta, Chairman
The Honorable Jan Schakowsky, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection
Committee on Energy and Commerce
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Chairman Latta and Ranking Member Schakowsky:
Thank you for convening the hearing, Examining Drug Impaired Driving, on July 11, 2018. We would like to provide some additional information for your consideration regarding the countermeasure of lower blood alcohol content (BAC) while driving limits.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), an alliance of consumer, safety, medical and public health groups, and insurance companies working together to pass highway and auto safety laws that prevent crashes, save lives, and reduce costs, supports lowering the legal limit of impaired driving to .05 percent BAC. This countermeasure is already preventing deaths and injuries in more than ninety countries around the world. Adoption of this measure across the United States would help reduce preventable drunk driving fatalities and injuries.
While some reports show that the incidence of drug use, which includes legal, illegal, and prescription drugs, in fatally injured drivers is on the rise, drug use as a causal factor in traffic crashes remains uncertain. A correlation between drug use, specific drug levels in the body, and impairment is unresolved. It is unquestionable that drug use and misuse is a serious concern. However, on our roads, alcohol impairment behind the wheel continues to be the largest single contributor to traffic fatalities in the U.S. Moreover, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities are on the rise.
Drunk driving is a plague that killed nearly 10,500 people and injured 290,000 more in 2016 alone. Since 2014, drunk driving fatalities increased two consecutive years and account for approximately 30 percent of all traffic fatalities. On average, a drunk driver kills one person every 49 minutes and injures someone else every 90 seconds. These tragic crashes have also resulted in $201 billion in annual comprehensive costs to society. To curb this deadly epidemic, employing data-driven solutions that reduce drunk driving crashes is a commonsense and responsible approach.
A significant body of research, including a recent, comprehensive study from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS), Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities, includes adopting .05 percent BAC policy as a key recommendation, among other well researched countermeasures. The NAS determined that if all states adopt .05 percent BAC laws, over 1,500 lives could be saved each year. This position is supported by Advocates, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), AAA, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, National Safety Council, law enforcement organizations, parent teacher associations and other organizations and interests.
Reducing the legal BAC limit to curb drunk driving is a well-documented success in the U.S. as well as around the world. In 1983, Utah was the first state to reduce the BAC limit by enacting a .08 percent BAC law. Last year, Utah continued its leadership and became the first state to enact a .05 percent BAC law, which goes into effect on December 31, 2018. Other states, including California, Delaware, Hawaii, New York, Vermont and Washington, have also recently considered changing their laws, which Advocates has strongly supported.
Laboratory evidence shows that most adults are significantly impaired at .05 percent BAC.[i] At .05 percent BAC a person displays exaggerated behavior, may have loss of small-muscle control (focusing eyes), impaired judgement, lowered alertness and release of inhibition. When applied to driving skills, a .05 percent BAC results in reduced coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering and reduced response to emergency driving situations.[ii] The risk of being killed in a single-vehicle crash with BACs of .05 to .079 percent is seven to 21 times higher than for drivers without measurable alcohol.[iii]
These facts have motivated most industrialized nations to establish a .05 percent BAC or lower limit for driving. In Europe and Australia, the fatal and injury alcohol-involved crashes decreased at least five to eight percent and up to 18 percent after these countries lowered their legal BAC limit from .08 to .05 percent.
Furthermore, when U.S. states lowered their BAC limits from .10 to .08 percent, there were no adverse impacts on the operation of the criminal justice system. While it is reasonable to expect a slight increase in driving while impaired (DWI) arrests, it should not prove overly burdensome. In fact, according to published research, “Several studies, including a NHTSA-sponsored study in Illinois, examined the impact of lowering the BAC limit from 0.10 to 0.08 percent on enforcement efforts and the criminal justice system. These studies did not find any significant problems for the police or for the court systems in adjusting to a lower limit. The same should happen when the limit is lowered from 0.08 to 0.05 BAC.”[iv] Additionally, the change should not require law enforcement officers to learn new protocols for determining impairment or strain enforcement efforts. Probable cause to stop drivers and to determine if they are impaired will remain, testing technology will be recalibrated to reflect a lower BAC limit, and “the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test of the three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) is just as valid at 0.05 BAC as it is at 0.08 BAC and 0.10 BAC.”[v]
Lowering BAC limits to .05 percent acts as a deterrent for all levels of drunk driving. Several studies have shown that .08 percent BAC laws not only reduce the incidence of impaired driving at lower BACs, but they also lessen the incidence of impaired driving at higher BACs (over .10 and over .15).[vi] Lowering the illegal BAC limit from .10 BAC to .08 BAC was associated with an 18 percent decrease in the proportion of fatal crashes with a fatally injured driver whose BAC was .15 or greater.
To meaningfully reduce the incidence of impaired driving and the resulting fatalities, injuries and costs, proven, data driven countermeasures must be employed. In addition to .05 percent BAC limits, state laws proven to curb impaired driving include: zero tolerance for under age 21 measures; all-offender ignition interlock device requirements; child endangerment statutes; open container prohibitions; administrative license revocation; and, the authorization for sobriety check points. Additional efforts must also be undertaken such as: improving data collection and analysis; expanding roadside testing operations; increasing funding for toxicology laboratories; determining standards and protocols for testing; funding accelerated research to improve roadside technology; accelerating the development of the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADDS); and, investing in training for law enforcement to recognize and respond to all types of impairment.
We respectfully request that this letter and the attached information and studies including the NAS, Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities, A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem, the NAS .05% BAC Briefing, the NTSB .05 BAC Safety Briefing Facts, and the Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research Journal article, Estimation of the Potential Effectiveness of Lowering the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limit for Driving from 0.08 to 0.05 Grams per Deciliter in the United States, be submitted to the hearing record.
Thank you again for your leadership on this issue. We look forward to working with you to once and for all combat the preventable epidemic of impaired driving.
Catherine Chase, President
cc: Members of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee
[i] Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Topic Overview: Alcohol and Drugs. Available at: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/alcohol-and-drugs/topicoverview.
[ii] MADD, What is .08? Available at: http://www.madd.org/drunk-driving/about/understanding-08.html
[iii] Fell, Jim C., Voas, Robert B, The effectiveness of a 0.05 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for driving in the United States, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. June 2014. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4448946/pdf/nihms692693.pdf
[iv] Fell JC, Voas RB.. The effectiveness of a 0.05 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for driving in the United States. Addiction. 2014;109:869–74. 10.1111/add.12365 (FELL 2014); citing Voas, RB.; Taylor, EP.; Kelley Baker, T.; Tippetts, AS. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 2000 Dec. Effectiveness of the Illinois .08 law. Report no.: Final Report DOT HS 809 186.
[v] Fell 2014, citing McKnight AJ, Langston E, McKnight AS, Lange J. Sobriety tests for low blood alcohol concentrations. Accid Anal Prev. 2002; 34:305–311.
[vi] Brooks & Zaal, 1992; Hingson, et al., 1996; Hingson, Heeren, & Winter, 2000; Tippetts, Voas, Fell, & Nichols, 2005; Wagenaar, et al., 2007. Information available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4448946/.