Drunk Driving

Because drinking can affect your balance and coordination, as well as your judgment and attention, it is especially dangerous to drink and drive or to get into a car with a driver who has been drinking. Recent actions by the government to penalize drunk drivers have contributed to a reduction in the number of motor vehicle accidents involving alcohol.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an accident is alcohol-related if either the driver or a pedestrian involved in the accident has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01 percent or more. But some states have taken a much more lenient approach, raising the BAC level to as high as 0.10 percent before describing someone as "legally intoxicated." (We will discuss BAC in greater detail in the next chapter.)

In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed legislation that required states to take a much stricter approach to drunk driving, lowering the BAC limit to 0.08 percent, or they will lose federal highway funding. Beginning in October 2003, states that have failed to pass this law will lose 2 percent of their highway funding and will continue to lose an additional 2 percent of the funding for each year that they fail to pass the law, up to a loss of 8 percent annually.

Studies support this stricter approach. In 2001, the NHTSA studied the role alcohol played in fatal automobile accidents in

Lowering the legal limit of blood alcohol concentration to 0.08% has resulted in a reduction of alcohol-related automobile fatalities for many states. Legislation passed in 2000 requires that all states adopt this standard by 2003 or risk losing funding for their highways.

states whose legal BAC limit was the lower 0.08 percent. The results showed that the number of alcohol-related accidents was declining. In 1987, alcohol-related accidents accounted for 51 percent of all fatal crashes; in 1999, the number had declined to 38 percent.

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