1 for the road?
Marietta resident Don Davis, 91, drinks two beers twice a week with friends.
The drinking group, who were meeting Tuesday at the Harmar Tavern, call themselves The Goodfellows and while they endorse safe drinking practices, they are wholly opposed to lowering the drunk driving threshold.
“I think it is a bad idea,” said Davis.
The National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended that states lower the blood alcohol threshold for drunk driving from a blood alcohol level of .08 to .05, a change the board estimates would further reduce drunk driving accidents and fatalities.
However, Davis and other local residents and business owners say they worry the lower limit would hurt businesses and criminalize behavior that’s not irresponsible.
A lower limit would do little more than increase the number of arrests and people thrown in jail, said Davis.
His friend, Fred Wood, 85, of Marietta, shared that opinion.
“I think you can drink reasonably without making that fine a distinction,” argued Wood.
The NTSB argues that the fine distinction does matter, estimating the reduced limit would save approximately 1,000 lives a year.
According to the Associated Press, more than 100 countries have adopted a BAC standard of .05 or lower and one report said drunk driving related accidents in Europe shrank by more than half within 10 years of implementation of the lower rate.
Some worry that a .05 BAC limit will intimidate restaurant goers from drinking any alcohol at all.
“If it gets to a .05, I won’t get into a car after even one drink. People can’t afford to,” said Whipple resident Steve Mowrey, 65.
That is exactly what restaurant owners are afraid of if the recommendation ever becomes a law, said Kevin Whitby, owner of the Harmar Tavern and Spagna’s Italian Restaurant.
“I don’t think people should be driving around intoxicated. I do think people have a right to go out and have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner without worrying about it,” said Whitby.
If enacted, the change would seriously hurt establishments that sell liquor and beer, he said.
Additionally, police already have plenty of leeway to pull over impaired drivers and make an arrest, Whitby said.
“I’ve had customers leave the tavern, get stopped, be below the .08 limit, and still be charged for something,” he said.
Officers do have the right to arrest someone for showing signs of impairment regardless of their blood alcohol result, verified Lt. Anne Ralston, a spokeswoman for the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
“The arrest is made on the scene and the officer is making that decision based on training, experience, the facts of the case,” said Ralston.
Even drivers who do not test positive for alcohol consumption can be legally impaired, she added.
“Drugged driving is something we’ve been seeing more and more of in Ohio,” she said.
Though not as easily detectable, those impaired by illegal or prescription drugs are subject to the same legal penalties as those driving drunk, she said.
Currently, the recommendation is just that-a recommendation, added Ralston. No legislature has been introduced in Ohio to lower the limit, she said.
Some argue that those falling below the .08 rate are not really impaired.
But research has shown that accidents, sometimes fatal ones, do occur between .05 and .08, said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.
“If this would be a means of reducing accidents and saving lives, then I would certainly be for it,” he said.
According to the NTSB, drivers falling between the currently legal .05 and .07 range accounted for around 1,000 fatalities in 2011, about one-tenth of the total impaired fatalities.
At a .05 BAC, some drivers begin having difficulties with depth perception and other visual functions, reported the NTSB.
Although there is no definite way to predict blood content, the Associated Press predicts a woman weighing less than 120 pounds would reach the limit at one drink and a 160-pound man would reach it around two.
But many factors beyond number of drinks-such as weight, gender and food consumption- play into blood alcohol content, said Mincks.
Marietta resident Mark Sibicky, 55, said that a lower drunk driving threshold should not be top priority if the nation really wants to combat drunk driving accidents.
“I think there should be more emphasis on repeat offenders and really getting them off the streets. And I think we need more money for abuse counseling and prevention,” said Sibicky, who was a former alcohol and drug abuse counselor.
Sibicky said he would also put more emphasis on requiring convicted drunk drivers to have their vehicles equipped with a breathalyzer lock, another recommendation that the NTSB did put forth.
“No one should drink and drive, but I think there are other issues we should be addressing first,” he said.