U.S. Government Could Tighten Drinking and Driving Laws in Hope of Reducing Enormous Death Toll

Drinking and driving laws in the U.S. could soon become stricter. A new government commissioned report suggests that the limit on the concentration of alcohol a person can legally have in their bloodstream while driving be lowered from .08 to .05.

According to the National Institutes of Health, raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 in 1980 resulted in a significant decrease in alcohol-related accidents and deaths. However, a statement about the new report says that these declining numbers in accidents have plateaued in recent years. The report, from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, suggests that even more amendments to alcohol laws may have a similar effect and further reduce the number of alcohol-related road accidents.

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“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 problem,” said Steven Teutsch, senior fellow Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California and chair of the committee behind the report, in statement. “Our report offers a comprehensive blueprint to reinvigorate commitment and calls for systematic implementation of policies, programs, and systems changes to renew progress and save lives.”

01_18_drunkdriving Drunk driving is responsible for one death every 51 minutes in the U.S. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The report also suggests that U.S. states increase alcohol taxes and reduce both the hours during which alcohol can be sold and the locations where it's sold, Syracuse.com reported. Preventing the sale of alcohol to people who are already visibly intoxicated and limiting alcohol marketing campaigns could also help, the committee concluded. 

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When we drink alcoholic beverages, our livers break down the ethanol. But the more alcohol we drink, the less our livers can break down the chemical, enabling some alcohol to enter our bloodstream. From there, it can travel to the brain, causing the disorientating side effects we associate with “being drunk.” Different bodies metabolize alcohol at different rates, so the same serving size may not affect all individuals in the same way. For this reason scientists and the police use blood alcohol level measured by a breathalyzer to determine how much alcohol is in an individual’s system.

Lowering the permitted blood alcohol concentration limit could help address the disturbing number of deadly and non-deadly car accidents. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol-impaired driving kills someone every 51 minutes and alcohol-related car crashes cost more than $44 billion a year.