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Officials discuss recommendation to lower highway blood-alcohol limit from .08 to .05

POSTED: May 16, 2013 12:09 a.m.

State and local officials and lawmakers gave their initial thoughts on the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation of lowering the blood-alcohol content rule to .05 for roads, from .08.

Gov. Nathan Deal, speaking on boating under the influence laws being lowered from .10 to .08, could only speculate on what might come of the recommendation for Georgians.

“I just saw that recommendation and saw the news reports on it yesterday. That’s something I feel sure the committees of jurisdiction and the General Assembly will consider. There will be those that advocate, obviously, that we comply with those recommendations, but we (have) got a lot of time between now and next year’s General Assembly and I’m sure there will be thorough discussion between now and then, and I don’t know whether the state would move in that direction or not.”

Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said his agency is examining the issue.

“That’s what we’re going to do, is look at it right now,” he said.

The NTSB recommended rewarding states that adopt the recommended lower threshold in order to promote its adoption.

“On the federal side, the report recommends that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration support state efforts by seeking authority to award incentive grants to states for establishing per se BAC limits of .05 or lower...” the board wrote in its safety report released May 14.

Efforts against drunken driving, such as increased drinking ages and lower BAC legal levels gained national traction in the 1970s.

“It took a lot of time to get the lowering from .10 to .08, and I think now, I believe almost every state, if not every state, has gone to that .08 level,” Deal said, which indeed, is the case.

Georgia did not enact a .08 standing until July 1, 2001, when the standard for adults was 0.10 percent.

Legislation signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000 would have cut a portion of federal highway funds to states that did not comply with legal limit of .08 or lower.

“An additional lowering is certainly something that will be a national discussion — it won’t be one that is simply limited to our state,” Deal said.

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, also in attendance at the Laurel Park ceremony marking the enactment of new boating laws, said he’d like to make an informed decision on the issue before taking a stance.

“I just saw that on the news yesterday, and I really don’t know the facts behind that. I would make my opinion based on facts, so I’d like to see some facts on that,” Hawkins said. “I know that’s controversial for restaurant association people, for example, but if their facts are sound, then I see no way around that.”

On the enforcement end, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office said that such a change in the law would initially affect the number of citations.

“It really would not affect enforcement activity on the front end. That’s simply about officers out on the street doing the job of enforcing impaired driving laws,” spokesman Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks said. “If such a law were enacted, where it would come into play is that we would probably see an increase in the number of impaired driving cases because of the lower legal threshold.”

There were more than 350 DUI arrests in Hall County in 2012.

Wilbanks noted that although the legal BAC is .08, drivers can still face consequences at lower levels of impairment.

“It’s referred to as ‘DUI Less Safe.’ Less safe is typically established by the actions of the driver — at-fault involvement in a crash or driving actions, for example,” Wilbanks said.


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