Alcohol-impaired driving is a persistent problem in the United States, causing more than 10,000 fatalities each year despite intensified efforts.

Since the 1980s, drunk driving has accounted for one-third of all traffic-related deaths and almost 40 percent of these fatalities are victims other than the intoxicated driver.

By 2010, the total economic cost of such accidents was valued at $121.5 billion. This amount already includes treatment costs, earning and productivity losses, litigation fees, and vehicle damage.

"The plateauing fatality rates indicate that what has been done to decrease deaths from alcohol-impaired driving has been working but is no longer sufficient to reverse this growing public health system," explains Steven Teutsch, committee chair and senior fellow at the Public Health Institute.

Policies On Blood Alcohol Concentration Threshold

To lower the number of traffic-related deaths, the National Academies advisory committee calls for the implementation of preventive policies that include reducing the current blood alcohol concentration limit to 0.05 percent.

It urges the federal government to incentivize this reform and to enact revised policies together with active media campaigns and visible enforcement efforts.

Currently, driving with a BAC at or higher than 0.08 percent is considered a crime in all states, with penalties varying according to location. In 48 states including D.C. and Guam, more severe charges are given to drivers with higher BACs.

So far, only Utah has announced lowering its BAC limit to 0.05. The Governors Highway Safety Association notes that such regulation will become effective on Dec. 30.

Lowering BAC Limit Prevents Fatal Crashes: 2013 Study

The National Transportation Safety Board has long advocated this reduced limit. It asserts that impairment begins even before a driver's BAC hits 0.08 percent and that by the time it reaches such limit, the risk of a fatal crash has more than doubled.

This is why the agency also recommends a BAC limit reduction to 0.05 percent. In fact, it even suggests a lower threshold.

Both recommendations from the NASEM and NTSB are supported by a study published in 2013 proving that the lowered limit is "a proven effective countermeasure" that has worked in other countries, most especially in Australia.

Data from Europe and Australia show that by reducing the BAC limit to 0.05, fatal and injury crashes involving intoxicated drivers have decreased by a minimum of 5 to 8 percent and a maximum of 18 percent.

The study estimates that if all states in the country were to effectively implement a 0.05 BAC limit, around 500 to 800 lives would be spared from impaired-driving fatal crashes.

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