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0.08 BAC Illegal Per Se Level

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1998
3 pages
This report describes the results of States lowering the legal limit of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) from 0.10 to 0.08.
Fifteen States have lowered their BAC level to 0.08. In a 1992 Report to Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended that all States lower their illegal per se level to 0.08 for all drivers aged 21 and above. In 1996, 41 percent of the 41,907 motor vehicle deaths were alcohol-related. Over 80 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes with positive BACs had levels exceeding 0.08. An average male weighing 170 pounds must consume more than four drinks within 1 hour on an empty stomach to reach a 0.08 BAC level. A recent analysis of five States that lowered the BAC limit to 0.08 showed that significant decreases in alcohol-related fatal crashes occurred in four out of the five States as a result of the legislation. Another study concluded that if all States adopted 0.08 illegal blood alcohol limits at least 500 to 600 fewer fatal crashes would occur annually. Laboratory and test track research shows that the vast majority of drivers, even experienced drinkers, are impaired at 0.08 with regard to critical driving tasks, such as braking, steering, lane changing, judgment, and divided attention. The risk of being involved in a crash increases substantially by 0.08 BAC. Lowering the per se limit is a proven effective countermeasure which will reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Opposition to 0.08 legislation includes the claims that it will not affect high BAC problem drinker drivers; it will affect alcohol consumption and therefore the economy; and it is the first step to lowering the limit even further. But the 0.08 limit is reasonable and has the potential for saving thousands of lives and many more injuries on the highways if it is implemented by more States.