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Area law enforcement officers question effect of new DUI proposal

Published May 22. 2013 05:04PM

The National Transportation Safety Board's latest recipe for zero drunk-driving fatalities suggests a red wine reduction and a dash of jail time for anyone operating a vehicle with BAC levels above 0.05.

On May 14, the NTSB issued a set of 19 recommendations in its report, "Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving." Among the 19 recommendations, the report called for increased use of high-visibility enforcement, use of in-vehicle alcohol detection technology, increased targeting of repeat offenders, and enhanced use of Administrative License Actions.

While these recommendations are thought-out and easily welcomed as the summer traffic season creeps steadily toward us, it is the NTSB's push for all 50 states to lower their legal BAC limits from 0.08 to 0.05 that has been keeping the report in the national spotlight.

"The research clearly shows that drivers with a BAC above 0.05 are impaired and at a significantly greater risk of being involved in a crash where someone is killed or injured," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman in a press release about the report. The press release also said that the proportion of deaths resulting from alcohol-impaired drivers has remained constant at around 30 percent since 1995 and called impaired driving a national epidemic.

The NTSB's report said that over a 100 countries have already reduced their allowed BAC levels to 0.05 or lower. Twenty five of the these countries are members of the European Union which saw a 53 percent decrease in alcohol-impaired crashes between 2001 and 2010 when BAC levels were reduced to 0.05 or lower in all but two of the EU member countries.

Even though most fatal crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers occur with BAC levels significantly higher than 0.05 or 0.08, the report said research shows that lowering the BAC limit works to change the behavior of drivers at all BAC levels.

Regardless of NTSB reaching out to states to act upon their recommendations, there are no provisions coming forth on this issue in the Pennsylvania Senate, according to Senator Robert Casey's (D-PA) press secretary, Alex Miller. Miller also said that Senator Casey has not yet determined his stance on lowering the allowed levels and would have to look closely at any measures concerning this issue before deciding how he would vote on them.

Press spokeswoman for Senator Patrick Toomey (R-PA), E.R. Anderson reiterated that there is no Senate movement regarding the matter and said she had not heard the Senator speak yet of the NTSB's recommendations.

At the local level, Brian Tobin, Chief Deputy Sheriff of Schuylkill County, said that he thinks there is a good program in place now by the state and cannot determine how effective lowering BAC levels to 0.05 would be until he has been presented with research and statistics on the matter.

The Lehighton borough Chief of Police, Neal Ebbert, does not believe lowering levels would have an initially drastic effect on preventing alcohol-impaired crashes but is in support of "…any law that is passed to promote public safety, to discourage people who are drinking behind the wheel and that prevents innocent people from injury." In time, Ebbert believes a lower BAC would allow patrolmen to pull over suspected drunk drivers with more ease than accomplished now.

"Rome wasn't built in a day so it's going to take some time to promote that public idea of 'Don't get behind the wheel,'" said Ebbert.

Christopher Ritter, a Palmerton Police Officer, refrained from commenting on whether or not he supports any possible changes as to not misrepresent the Palmerton police force, but said he does not believe lowering the BAC would change the methods police use to determine if they should pull over a driver or not.

"They would need a certain blood alcohol level to exhibit the behavior that we look for," said Ritter. Adding, "Lowering the limit would not give us more things to look for, so to speak."

Ritter said officers would be more likely to encounter and thus charge someone who is driving at 0.05 at an accident scene or a traffic stop than they would be while simply patrolling.

Lower BAC levels would mean fewer drinks, fewer deaths, and scarcer profits for restaurants accustomed to patrons indulging in a few drinks with their meals. Multiple local restaurant owners and managers agreed that lowering the level would significantly impact any establishment that serves alcohol but denied to comment on the subject for a variety of reasons.

While the future of NTSB's recommendations remain unclear for now, another tested and true recommendation will continue to cover the area Enjoy responsibly.

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