Board Recommends Lower Drunk Driving Threshold, Athens Police Captain Comments

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Federal accident investigators recommended Tuesday that states cut their threshold for drunken driving by nearly half, matching a standard that has substantially reduced highway deaths in other countries.

The National Transportation Safety Board said states should shrink the standard from the current .08 blood alcohol content to .05 as part of a series of recommendations aimed at reducing alcohol-related highway deaths.

When it comes to lowering the limit, Athens Police Capt. Ralph Harvey says they will enforce whatever law is on the books, but doesn't anticipate a huge change in practices.

"Despite what test results are, we can still charge someone too impaired to drive even if they get a low test," he said. "I've seen people who blow a .02 and that might sound low, but the person can’t stand. That can happen for a number of reasons. It could be that they don't have a high tolerance for alcohol, or that they're 'on their way up', meaning they are getting drunker."

Capt. Harvey says if Ohio decides to follow suit, his department will see some changes in the way the law will be enforced and will experience various training sessions to learn the science behind the decision. 

"It would change the way we enforce it, which effectively means you don’t have to be as intoxicated to get arrested based on that scientific test," he said. "We would have to go through training to let officers know this is what you see with people drinking at this level, and so on."

He expects that if the law is changed, there will be a number who challenge it in court.

Capt. Harvey says the law has seen a lot of changes over the years. 

"That law has changed more than any other law in my 16-year career," he said. "It is continually evolving, and the 'danger zone' level continues to lower."

More than 100 countries have adopted the .05 alcohol content standard or lower.

A report says in Europe, the number of drinking and driving related accidents reduced by more than half within 10 years after the standard was dropped.