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Will California Save Lives with Point .05?

When it comes to fighting dangerous drivers, California is poised to join the developed world.

Intoxicated driving remains a major cause of death in California, having claimed at least 1120 lives in 2017. Now, the California legislature is considering a powerful law to rein in the chaos. Thanks to the work of dedicated activists and conscience-driven lawmakers, a landmark piece of legislation could set a 0.05% Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) as the legal limit for drivers. Currently, the legal limit is 0.08 BAC, and that little downwards tweak could save hundreds of lives.

The bill, AB 1713, authored by State Assemblymembers Autumn Burke and Heath Flora, would make California only the second state in the U.S. to lower the limit. Utah passed a 0.05 bill in 2017, which went into effect at the beginning of this year. But elsewhere in the world, a 0.05BAC is the standard. Countries like Australia, France, Germany, Israel, Spain, Taiwan and Turkey all adhere to this standard, while others like Japan, China, and Sweden, insist drivers have a BAC of 0.03 or lower.

Impetus for the bill derives in part from Liam’s Life, an organization started by Marcus Kowal and Mishel Eder in memory of their son, who was struck by an incapacitated driver in 2015. In their campaign’s tribute to Liam, Kowel and Eder note that “drunk driving is a completely preventable problem, yet it still continues to happen.” “Liam’s Law,” as the bill is nicknamed, has the potential to reduce fatal car crashes as much as 18%, according to international research.

As California deliberate Liam’s Law, Oregon also has a 0.05 BAC bill in front of the legislature. State Senate President Peter Courtney proposed the bill, noting that “this is a Mount Everest move. It’s doable, but it isn’t going to be easy. I’m going to fight like hell to make it happen.” The American Beverage Institute—one of Big Alcohol’s major domestic lobbies—has already objected to the bill, as they did in Utah. Chief among their objections is the fact that the majority of alcohol-related fatalities involved BACs of 0.15 percent or higher.

“We’ve dismissed ABI's nonsense before, and so did Utah” said Michael Scippa, Public Affairs Director of Alcohol Justice, “and it’s scientifically illiterate. We know that Point .05 Saves Lives! Denying that just to protect your profits is murderously ignorant.”

Both California and Oregon’s bills are currently in committee, and will be followed closely by Alcohol Justice.

READ MORE about how Point 05 Saves Lives.


National Academy of Sciences: For Safe Roads, We Need Point 05 BAC

cover of the national academy of sciences report on drunk driving deathsThe time may have come for the United States to be dragged kicking and screaming into accepting .05 blood alcohol content (BAC) limits for DUI. Currently, every state in the U.S. has a .08 BAC, much higher than the .05 that is commonly enforced throughout much of the developed world. A new report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the pre-eminent research council in the country, recommends we play catch up.

Alcohol-related crashes take the lives of an American every 49 minutes. In its new report, Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities: A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem, the NAS emphasizes that "these deaths are entirely preventable." The key, the authors stress, is to approach the problem at multiple steps in the process. This means simultaneously lowering the amount of alcohol the U.S. drinks as whole, reducing binging and other overconsumption, keeping incapacitated drinkers from getting behind the wheel, and preventing them from repeating the process once they have been caught.

Key among this is the lowered BAC. As the authors note, driving ability has already begun to degrade by the time BAC reaches 0.05%. At least one state-Utah-has accepted this as a reasonable strategy to reduce mortality. Other states may follow; Washington and Hawaii considered similar bills last year, and a 0.05 BAC bill introduced by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz is current before the New York State legislature.

"Thanks are due to Mr. Ortiz for taking this stand," said Michael Scippa, Director of Public Affairs for Alcohol Justice. "Lowering the BAC limit is evidence-based, reasonable, and accepted throughout the world-it's good to see both the states and federal researchers coming into the 21st century."

However, the NAS stresses DUI reform alone is not enough to staunch the tide. They recommend multiple levels of policy change, including tighter restrictions on alcohol marketing, making alcohol less ubiquitous through hour-of-sales and closing hour restrictions, and aggressively providing clinical interventions and referrals to treatment. Most notably-especially in the wake of a nationwide evisceration of alcohol taxes-the report recommends increasing taxes on all forms of alcohol and dedicating the revenue to treatment, prevention, and enforcement efforts. This two-pronged approach, both to reduce demand through tax and mitigate impact through funding, is the backbone of charging for harm.

"If this country wants to take alcohol harm seriously, it needs to embrace Charge for Harm," said Scippa. "This report is a good first step. Let's make it into something real."

The NAS report is available for free download at the National Academies Press site.

READ MORE about how Point .05 Saves Lives.

READ MORE about responsible alcohol taxation and Charge for Harm.