Tennessee Weighs Tougher Blood Alcohol Standards for DUI

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Updated: 5/15/2013 8:59 am
MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The federal government has a controversial new plan to save 1,000 lives a year with a "one drink" DUI.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommends all fifty states lower their legal limit for blood alcohol levels from .08 to .05.

On the surface it doesn’t sound like much, just three-hundredths of a point. But, that small percentage could have big effects on safety and business.

“Is that one beer,” asked Ty Agee, “is that one drink?”

Agee is the President of the Beale Street Merchants Association; he and others have plenty of questions surrounding the NTSB recommendation to lower the legal blood alcohol limit.

“That .03 is probably not going to change the game too much.” said Colin Bergstrom, the owner of the Blind Bear Speakeasy in downtown Memphis.

But others in the life-saving business disagree.

“It doesn’t seem like much on the surface; however, if you look at it, it’s as much as a forty percent decrease,” said Kendell Poole, Director of Tennessee’s Department of Highway Safety.

More than 10,000 people a year are killed by impaired drivers. So the conclusion - .08 is too high.

According to Debbie Hersman, the Chairman of NTSB, “When people reach .05, they have reduced reaction time, they have cognitive and visual impairment.”

And their crash-risk increases by 38 percent.

“When you get to .07,” said Hersman, “your crash risk is doubled.”

Those in the alcohol business are skeptical.

“It’s serious,” said Agee, “you don’t want anybody to have an accident, but I feel like .08 is fine.”

That sentiment extends to those who enjoy adult beverages.

“If you just have one beer, most of the time you’re fine to drive,” noted bar patron Lauren Call.

But, what if the legal limit drops to .05?

“Well, I would probably be going to jail on my way home from here,” said another bar customer, Brian Ahern.

The United States is among the few countries still at .08, and it’s costly.

“We see these impaired driving crashes costing us, every year as a nation, $130 billion.” Hersman told abc24.com.

Bergstrom observed, “Theoretically, if someone has one drink, steps outside, hops in the car and drives off, and they’re pulled over immediately, that is probably .06.”

Poole said the NTSB recommendation still had to pass the state legislature, and it could take years to pass, if it passes at all.

He also said his office plans to be part of the national discussion.
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