Legal Issues and Automotive and Interstates/Highways and Criminal Charges and Law and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

State unlikely to act on push for lower booze level for driving

May 15, 2013

Federal officials are recommending that states reduce the amount of alcohol people can drink and still get behind the wheel. But a key state lawmaker says that’s not likely to happen in Indiana.

The National Traffic Safety Board voted Tuesday for a series of recommendations, including that states lower the legal blood-alcohol limit for driving to 0.05 percent. Currently, the legal blood-alcohol level for driving is 0.08 percent in Indiana and most states.

The board’s vote came on the 25th anniversary of the nation’s deadliest drunk-driving incident, a bus crash in Carrollton, Ky., where 3 adults and 24 children died.

Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, fought for 11 years in the Indiana General Assembly to bring the blood-alcohol level down from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent before lawmakers approved the change in 2001. Wyss said at the time that the law passed in part because the federal government was threatening to withhold significant amounts of transportation money from Indiana if it didn’t make the change.

On Tuesday, Wyss said he’s doubtful the General Assembly would consider reducing the level again – and it would be “nearly impossible” to bring the level to 0.05 percent.

“It’s an effort I would not undertake again,” Wyss said.

Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, said he probably would not support the move. He said he would need to see more evidence that moving the level would actually be beneficial.

Indiana law does allow a person to be arrested if caught driving with a 0.05 percent blood-alcohol level – but only if the officer can prove impairment.

“I think we are just getting over the top and harassing people,” Boots said.

However, Wyss said that with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent, a person shows signs of impairment and shouldn’t be driving. He said he showed his colleagues data more than a decade ago that proves about 98 percent of people are impaired at 0.05.

But he said many people feel it is their right to drive drunk or impaired – and it’s not.

At least 100 other countries have a blood-alcohol limit of 0.05 percent, including Europe.

“Other countries are much further ahead of the U.S. and their understandings of drunk driving,” Wyss said.

Kara Brooks, press secretary for Gov. Mike Pence, said the office is aware of the federal agency’s recommendation but has not had official communication about it.

“When we do, we will give the review consideration,” Brooks said.

The NTSB also recommended that states increase the use of visible law enforcement on the roads, require ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders and create and use more courts specializing in cases of driving while under the influence.

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