A little cursory research of DUI laws related to blood alcohol “legal limits” in Georgia reveals that as early as 1954, the Georgia General Assembly outlawed blood alcohol concentrations at a certain level. House Bill 128 was approved January 11, 1954 and provided that “If there was at that time 0.15 percent or more by weight of alcohol in the defendant’s blood, it shall be presumed that the defendant was under the influence of intoxicating liquor.” Fast forward to May 12, 2013 – nearly 60 years later – and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is now recommending that states lower the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .05.
Bear in mind that in between, the Georgia General Assembly saw fit to lower the BAC in DUI cases to .12, then to .10, to the present legal limit of .08. It is unclear from reading cases and statutes when the law changed from .15 to .12, but since I have been a law student or practicing law, I have watched it steadily and repeatedly go lower. I watched it lower from .12 to .10 in 1991 when I was an intern in a DUI prosecutor’s office in Atlanta, Georgia. It remained that way for the next decade when on July 1, 2001, it was lowered from .10 to .08. When will we see it go from .08 to .05? That remains a largely political question, given that many politicians readily join the chorus of those seeking election to “get tough on drunk drivers.” Drunk drivers? Really? Drunk at .05?
Consider that presently, at .05 or below in Georgia, a driver is PRESUMED to be NOT under the influence. Above .05 up to .08 there is no presumption for or against impairment. And of course at .08 and above, it is a crime by itself to drive, as that is considered an unlawful alcohol concentration.
Consider also that, nearly all of the government-funded studies regarding police testing for impairment have been “validated” at .10 or more recently at .08 to reflect the change in the law. What will happen now? A new round of result-oriented, government-funded, unscientific studies that will make reach the same conclusion as the .10 studies at half the BAC? Sounds ridiculous, right? Watch this space. It will happen.
The NTSB points to the number of “alcohol-related” crash statistics that paint a gruesome picture of the number of drunk drivers on the road. Or does it? From Wikipedia:
Alcohol-related traffic crashes are defined by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as alcohol-related if either a driver or a non-motorist had a measurable or estimated BAC of 0.01 g/dl or above.
This statistic includes any and all vehicular (including bicycle and motorcycle) accidents in which any alcohol has been consumed, or believed to have been consumed, by the driver, a passenger or a pedestrian associated with the accident. Thus, if a person who has consumed alcohol and has stopped for a red light is rear-ended by a completely sober but inattentive driver, the accident is listed as alcohol-related, although alcohol had nothing to do with causing the accident. Furthermore, if a sober motorist hits a drunk pedestrian, the accident is also listed as alcohol-related. Alcohol-related accidents are often mistakenly confused with alcohol-caused accidents. Many[who?] have criticized the NHTSA for compiling this statistic since it gives the impression that drunk drivers cause a much higher percentage of accidents and does not accurately reflect the problem ofdrunk driving in the United States.
Ultimately, there appears to be very little credible evidence that lowering the BAC will do anything to reduce the number of actual fatalities that are caused by drunk drivers. It will however benefit two groups: politicians and DUI defense practitioners. Many of my colleagues in the DUI Defense community have joked that this is a good thing – that it will increase business for DUI defense lawyers. Those of us who practice DUI defense law who got into it to help protect citizens’ constitutional rights, their careers, their families and their reputations from overzealous police officers and politicians, don’t necessarily view it that way. I view it as yet another example of government overreaching, driven not by public safety, but by politicians and overzealous law enforcement. It seems clear that zero tolerance is the true agenda for these groups. None of them have been able to answer my question: Isn’t it amazing how the human body has changed the way it metabolizes alcohol in the last 60 years? How do you suppose that happened?