The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 17, 2013

Restaurant owner: 0.05 percent DUI level is too low

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— SELINSGROVE — The National Transportation Safety Board announced Tueday that states should shrink the standard from the current 0.08 percent blood alcohol content to 0.05 percent - and that doesn’t sit well to many Valley business owners.

Lowering the legal limit from 0.08 percent to 0.05 would likely mean less business for restaurants, said BJ’s Steak and Rib House owner Bob Kirkpatrick.

“We’re getting too far,” he said. “It used to be .10, now we’re looking at half of that.”

BJ’s closely monitors patrons to make sure they’re not serving visibly intoxicated people, something that’s not very often a problem, Kirkpatrick said.

“We don’t serve people to the point of intoxication,” he said. “We’re only talking about a couple of glasses of wine with dinner.”

BJ’s is not alone; businesses across the state are worried about lost revenue if the BAC limit is lowered, said Amy Christie, executive director of the Pennsylvania Tavern Association.

“Business went down at .08,” she said. “It’s not because the lower BAC limit is keeping the habitual high BAC drivers off the road all it’s doing is making responsible citizens wonder, ‘Can I have one glass of wine at dinner?’”

But the NTSB thinks otherwise. The NTSB’s announcement was part of a series of recommendations aimed at reducing alcohol-related highway deaths.

“Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. “Alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will.”

More than 100 countries have adopted the 0.05 percent alcohol content standard or lower, according to a report by the board’s staff. In Europe, the share of traffic deaths attributable to drunken driving was reduced by more than half within 10 years after the standard was dropped.

A woman weighing less than 120 pounds can reach 0.05 percent after just one drink, studies show. A man weighing up to 160 pounds reaches 0.05 after two drinks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, at a BAC of 0.05 percent, drivers will have reduced coordination, reduced ability to track movement and reduced response to emergency driving situations. At 0.08 percent, drivers lose the ability to concentrate, speed control, experience reduced information processing and impaired perception.

New approaches are needed to combat drunken driving, which claims the lives of more than a third of the 30,000 people killed each year on U.S. highways — a level of carnage that that has remained stubbornly consistent for the past decade and a half, the board said.

However, NTSB statistics also indicate that in about 70 percent of all alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, at least one driver had a BAC of 0.15 or higher, with the most frequently recorded BAC being 0.18.

About 6 percent of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities involve drivers with a BAC of 0.01 to 0.07 percent, according to the NTSB statistics.

In Pennsylvania in 2010, 69 of the state’s 1,324 fatal crashes invovled drivers with a BAC of 0.01 to 0.07 percent, according to the NTSB, in contrast to the number of drivers with a .15 BAC or higher involved in fatal crashes, which was 332, or 25 percent of all fatal crashes and 77 percent of all alcohol-related fatal crashes.

“I think the problem drinker is the problem drinker,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s not the couple out on a weekend for dinner.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report