By Richard Read

Traffic fatalities have been
for several decades, but despite such improvements, alcohol has remained a contributing factor in roughly one-third of roadway deaths.

For example, in 2001, 32 percent of America's 42,196 traffic fatalities were linked to drunk driving. Ten years later, in 2011, the U.S. saw
32,479 deaths -- 
nearly 10,000 fewer than a decade before -- but 30 percent were still attributed to booze.

According to
, the National Transportation Safety Board wants to improve those numbers dramatically by cutting the legal limit for blood alcohol content from 0.08 to 0.05.

The problem is, of course, that BAC limits are set by individual states, not the federal government. The feds can offer incentives to
states to adopt certain standards -- for example, by offering highway funds to states that do and denying them to states that don't -- but it's an indirect, heavily negotiated process that makes many state politicians uncomfortable.

And they're not the only ones. Lobbying groups like the American Beverage Institute are terrified of the NTSB's proposal and insist that lowering the BAC to 0.05 would devastate the restaurant industry. According to ABI spokesperson Sarah Longwell, "
it would preclude people from feeling comfortable having a single glass of wine with their dinner". 

That may be true, but it also opens Longwell up to three persuasive counter-arguments:

1.  Driving safely and unimpaired seems more important -- not only to drivers and passengers, but to other motorists and pedestrians -- than "feeling comfortable" having a glass of wine with dinner. Being impaired is being impaired.

2.  New, lower BAC limits wouldn't prevent anyone from enjoying a drink or five at dinner. It would only prevent them from getting behind the wheel afterward. It's 2014. Designated drivers and taxis are real things. 

3.  We've seen arguments like Longwell's many times before -- for example, in the 1980s, when drinking ages were lowered from 21 to 18 and America began moving toward uniform BAC standards of 0.08. Restaurants appear to be doing just fine.

That said, neither drinkers nor the restaurant industry have much to worry about for now. None of the NTSB's likely allies on this front -- not even MADD -- have signed on to support the new proposal. That will probably change in time, perhaps after a high-profile tragedy draws awareness to the ongoing problem of drinking and driving. But for now, you're welcome to order another round, and the folks at TGI Apple Garden can serve you. 


This story originally appeared at

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