NTSB recommends all states lower their blood-alcohol threshold for DUI to curb fatal car crashes

Agency suggests that .05 BAC be the new standard

DENVER - The National Transportation Safety Board wants to eliminate alcohol-related car crashes.

On Tuesday, the federal agency outlined some recommendations to try to achieve that goal.

Among them, encouraging all 50 states to lower their blood-alcohol threshold for drunken-driving from .08 to .05 or lower.

"Most Americans think we've solved the problem of impaired driving," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, "but in fact, it's still a national epidemic."

Statistics show that it is a continuing problem in Colorado.

In 2011, the state logged 446 traffic fatalities. Of that number, 185 involved alcohol.

There have been several fatal accidents in metro Denver this year.  Police say that on April 15, a Buick ran through a red light at 17th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard and broad-sided a Yellow Cab. The cab driver was killed.  A passenger in the cab and two passengers in the Buick were injured.

That’s the kind of accident the NTSB wants to eliminate.

"It's a laudable goal," said Jeanne McEvoy, president of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, a trade group representing restaurants, bars and liquor stores. "But I don't know if it's achievable."

Studies show that a woman weighing less than 120 pounds can reach a .05 blood-alcohol concentration -- or BAC -- after just one drink. A man weighing up to 160 pounds reaches .05 BAC after two drinks.

"To criminalize the activities of friends enjoying a barbecue or a sporting event, I think, is going in the wrong direction," McEvoy said.

McEvoy says the association's mantra has always been "drive responsibly, drink responsibly."  She says the NTSB would be better served by focusing on drivers with high levels of blood alcohol and those who are repeat offenders.

When it comes to blood alcohol, Colorado has a three-tiered system with different penalties.

The DUI (Driving Under the Influence) limit is .08.  First-time offenders face up to a year in jail, up to a $1,000 fine, a nine-months driving license suspension and 12 points off their license.

The DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired) limit is .05.  First-time offenders face up to 180 days in jail, a fine of up to $500, no license suspension and 8 points against their license.

For anyone under the age of 21, driving with a blood alcohol content of .02 or higher is against the law.

"There are a lot of questions that need to be asked about the current law and what it brings to the table in terms of reducing accidents and fatalities," McEvoy said.

When asked if the Colorado State Patrol would support lowering blood alcohol limits, Trooper Nate Reid said, "We don't have a stance."

He said CSP's goal is always to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities, but when it comes to blood alcohol content, "We will do whatever the legislature and the people of Colorado decide."

According to an NTSB news release, high-visibility enforcement efforts, such as sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols paired with media campaigns, deter alcohol-impaired driving.

"To increase the effectiveness of these programs, the NTSB recommends that police use passive alcohol sensors to help better detect alcohol vapor in the ambient environment," the news release stated.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is weighing in on the issue.

Carol Ronis told 7NEWS that while the NTSB's recommendation (to reduce the BAC) is one approach to reducing impaired driving, MADD is focused on its own campaign, which includes high-visibility enforcement, ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher and advanced technology known as DADSS or Driver Alcohol Detection for Safety.

"MADD believes that when fully implemented, the campaign is projected to save approximately 8,000 lives a year," Ronis said.

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