Yesterday history was made when Utah became the first state to lower its DWI limit to .05 blood alcohol content. Bravo! We’ve known for decades that lowering the legal limit saves lives and prevents injuries.
Texas should be next to lower the legal limit.
Our state’s drunk driving problem is way out of control. Texas always wins the dishonor of most DWI fatalities in the country. Last year, 1,323 members of our families and friends perished in these crashes.
Compare that number with California’s lower figure of 914 — but with 12 million more people.
Last year a shocking 10,265 Americans died in alcohol related crashes. One is too many.
I’ve had to represent far too many families of deceased drivers and injured people due to drunk driving crashes and they are often horrifying. I just met with a TCU student who was hit by a drunk man in a huge truck, who of course had no liability insurance, and we are having to file on her own uninsured motorist policy to recover her damages. You never think it will happen to you — until it does.
I don’t want anyone to suffer pain from these easily avoidable wrecks. That’s why I’ve been a strong supporter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I applaud its efforts to pass tougher laws to keep drunks off of our roads..
Under Texas law, drunk driving “accidents” are actually intentional criminal acts. The Texas Penal Code, Article 49.01(2), defines intoxication as either:
(A) not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or (B) having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.
In other words, Texas law holds that a driver can be DWI even if his or her BAC is less than .08 if impaired.
Statistics show that a 180 pound man who drinks four standard alcoholic beverages will reach a .08 level after four drinks (depending on factors like food and sleep) and women with the same weight after only three drinks. That’s a lot of alcohol.
But we all know that well before that, the driver may have lost visual clarity, muscular control and hand-eye coordination. Why the law allows people who cannot control 6,000 pound trucks and SUV’s to drive at 70 mph in that condition is anyone’s guess.
It is obvious that lowering the limit to .05 will save lives and reduce injuries. Unfortunately, critics who say that this alone will not end all car wrecks are correct, but it’s a good start.
The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that 800 lives will be saved each year by changing the law. By the time a person has reached the level of .08 BAC, his risk of causing a fatal crash has more than doubled. Even at .05%, it can be an accident waiting to happen.
The present system is clearly not working. Since no one wants a DWI on his record, to avoid risk of arrest many people drink up to the threshold, mentally calculating how many drinks will surpass the legal limit. But that limit is arbitrary. A person is not in any better shape to drive at .07 than at .08 BAC. Only the risk of getting a DUI is reduced. The new standard will stop those people who would have driven at alcohol levels between .05 and .08 and probably higher as well.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found ago that traffic deaths declined by a statistically significant amount in states that adopted the new lower standard of .08%. The results were so persuasive that more states reduced legal alcohol limits and eventually federal regulations compelled all states to adopt the lower standard by tying funding to the reduction. Lowering the limit to .05% is bound to have the same domino effect.
Almost every other country in the world recognizes what an enormous problem drinking while driving is and has adopted a .05% limit — and usually much lower. Europeans including the wine-loving French and Italians have lowered their death rate by 50% after doing so in 2010.And 40 countries have a zero tolerance for DWI. Compared to that even the lower .05% is generous.
Week after week, year after year, the carnage continues here in Texas.
I urge our lawmakers to pass our own version of Utah’s sensible bill. Our lives depend on it.