The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that states reduce the blood-alcohol level that defines drunken driving to 0.05 percent.

Presumably, states will balk. Presumably, the feds will eventually announce a plan to withhold federal highway money to states that are not in compliance. At least, that is the way things worked when the limit went from 0.1 percent to 0.08 percent.

By the way, cutting the level to 0.08 percent seems to have worked. The number of alcohol-related fatalities is down.

But before we put taverns out of business, which is what the new limit would effectively do, let’s think about it. Perhaps we should first address the most pressing question. Does a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent represent an impairment?

According to a calculator on the Internet, if a 180-pound man had three beers in an hour, he would be at 0.059. Have you ever had three beers in an hour? I have. Was I impaired?


But I was not so impaired that I might get on the highway going the wrong way. I would not have roared through a red light and plowed into a car. In other words, I was not a danger. I was not as sharp as I was before I had the three beers, but I was quite capable of driving safely.

If we want to stop all impairment, we have to do more than lower the blood-alcohol level. We will want to stop senior citizens from driving.

Our reflexes slow as we age. A 65-year-old man is not as quick as he was at 35. His eyesight isn’t as good, either. Nor is his hearing. He is not a dangerous driver — he might be when he’s 90 — but he is marginally impaired. In fact, he might be more impaired than a 30-year-old man who’s had three beers.

But do we want to get somebody off the road just because he is not Mario Andretti? Actually, Mario Andretti is no longer Mario Andretti. He is 73. He is slightly impaired.

Back to our three beers. Is a person impaired at 0.05 percent? Yes.

Let’s get to another question, though. Would the new level make our roads safer?

That is not so easily answered. We have reached a point at which society strongly disapproves of drunken driving. It didn’t used to be that way. I remember when Frank Sinatra asked for “one more for the road.” Downtown bars used to sell “go-cups” so a patron could drink on his way home. That movie is over.

Actually, I suspect societal disapproval has a lot to do with the decrease in alcohol-related fatalities. A drunk-driving arrest can ruin a career. If we reduce the blood-alcohol level, will a drunk-driving arrest have the same stigma? I doubt it.

Then, too, for a nostalgia buff like me, there is the matter of the bars. They used to define neighborhoods. Businesses, too. Co-workers would have a drink together after work. These workplace bars inspired a sense of camaraderie. Maybe that made businesses function better.

I can still remember herds of barosauruses, like buffalo on the Great Plains, crossing from offices to the bars, drinking for an hour or so and then leaving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.06 percent to 0.09 percent.

The gentle barosauruses that used to frequent these workplace bars are nearly extinct. Many of them were caught in the traps set for more dangerous creatures.

The rapid decline of the barosaurus put great stress on taverns. Most likely, they would have come under stress, anyway. After all, they represent a form of interaction that belongs largely to the past. Face-to-face contact. Who does that anymore?

People have “entertainment centers” at home. They can order movies from their phones. If they want to converse with strangers, they can go to chat rooms. What’s more, in the virtual world, a person can be whoever he or she wants to be. You are not stuck with being you. How revolutionary is that?

Furthermore, you go into a real bar, you have to make do with whoever shows up. You go into the virtual world, and you can order up any kind of companions you want. Of course, those companions might not be who they say they are any more than you have to be who you are, but hey, so it goes in the virtual world.

So taverns are at a disadvantage anyway. If we lower the blood-alcohol level to 0.05 percent, it’s a death knell for them. The lower level won’t do the restaurant business any good, either.

I’m sure there are people who will say, “Too bad. Let’s get the marginally impaired drivers off the road.”

Maybe that’s easy to say — if you’re under 40 and your sight, hearing and reflexes have not yet begun to deteriorate.

SEE RELATED STORY: Letter to the Editor: Comparing apples to oranges on impaired driving

Source: St Louis Post


Last updated on: 2013-06-05 | Link to this post