Coming To A Highway Near You: A .05 BAC?

The National Academies of Sciences recently said that lowering the BAC limit to .05 from its current .08 level was a good idea.

The panel also endorsed higher alcohol taxes and stricter enforcement of current laws as ways to decrease the number of alcohol-involved serious injury and fatal collisions on American roads. These moves are especially important in rural areas like the ones in parts of Liberty, Fort Bend, Walker, and Brazoria Counties, as almost half of DWI-related crashes occur in less populated areas. The panel also noted that most European countries have a .05 threshold, and alcohol-related fatalities have plummeted in many areas on the other side of the pond.

Restaurant and hospitality lobbyists attacked the 489-page report. In a statement, the Distilled Spirits Council said a reduction would “do nothing to deter” the “vast majority” of DWI motorists who have BACs well above the legal limit.


What Would .05 Mean?

In 1999, Texas lawmakers lowered the BAC threshold from .10 to .08. Arrests went up around 10 percent and have remained higher ever since. Alcohol-related crash fatalities fell sharply (although the introduction of ignition interlock devices at about the same time may have had more of an effect than a lower BAC), but the numbers are now rising again.

A lower BAC allows lawmakers to tell voters that they are “doing something” about the problem of drinking and driving. But some anti-drinking advocacy groups, especially MADD, have never been crazy about the idea. Instead, they want policymakers to focus on DWI roadblocks and ignition interlock devices.

Because they usually have less muscle and more fat, women reach .05 (or .08) a lot faster than men. Muscle absorbs alcohol but fat does not, so when women drink, more of the alcohol goes into the bloodstream. Interestingly, some Breathalyzer machines compensate for the gender difference and some do not.

Other factors also affect impairment level, including:

  • Ethnicity: Many Asians have low aldehyde dehydrogenase levels, and this enzyme is responsible for breaking up alcohol in the body.
  • Fatigue: Lack of sleep and alcohol have roughly the same effect on the brain. So, a drowsy person with a .04 BAC may be too impaired to drive but not legally guilty of DWI.
  • Food: People who drink on a full stomach metabolize alcohol through their livers at a much faster rate than people who have not eaten in several hours.

Most Breathalyzers don’t account for any of these factors, as many of them are very subjective or specific to certain individuals.

Rely on an Experienced Attorney

BAC level is not really an objective measurement of intoxication. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Houston, contact Jim Medley Defense Lawyer.