The National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”), an independent federal agency, known for investigating major railroad, aviation and highway accidents and with responsibility for making  recommendations aimed at preventing  accidents, has released 19 recommendations  to “eliminate” alcohol-impaired driving accidents.  The recommendations include the implementation of stronger laws, swifter enforcement and the use of new technology – and a lower threshold for determining alcohol-impaired driving, from 0.08 to 0.05 by blood alcohol content (“BAC”).

NTSB statistics indicate that each year nearly 10,000 people are killed in crashes involving alcohol-impaired driving and more than 173,000 are injured.  Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman stated, “On average, every hour one person is killed and 20 more injured [from impaired driving].”  These statistics are grave enough for Chairman Hersman to state alcohol-impaired driving is a “national epidemic.”

According to NTSB research, although impairment begins with merely one drink, once an individual’s BAC has reached 0.05, both cognitive and visual functions decline.  Currently, all 50 states utilize a BAC of 0.08 before imposing criminal penalties for “driving while intoxicated.”  Thus, NTSB has recommended all states reduce the 0.08 BAC to 0.05 for imposing criminal penalties.

This would not be the first time BAC thresholds have been lowered.  Until 2000, an individual would not be found guilty of driving while intoxicated in the United States if his BAC was less than 0.15.  In contrast, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), the Department of Transportation agency tasked with regulating the driving of commercial motor vehicles, has established a BAC threshold of 0.04 for determining whether a driver has violated its rules and requiring the removal of the driver from duty.  Additionally, under the FMCSA regulations, drivers may not resume performing safety-sensitive duties, such as driving a commercial motor vehicle, until they have been assessed by a Substance Abuse Professional, who must determine the required treatment and/or education the driver needs in resolving problems associated with alcohol misuse, and received a return to duty alcohol test result of less than 0.02, among other things.

Other recommendations offered by the NTSB include, among others:

  • High visibility enforcement efforts such as checkpoints, patrols and media campaigns;
  • Ignition interlocks for all driving while intoxicated offenders; and,
  • Administrative license suspension, which allows law enforcement to immediately suspend or revoke driver’s licenses at the time of a DWI arrest, and not allow reinstatement until an ignition interlock is installed.

Many employers that maintain substance abuse testing policies utilize the FMCSA thresholds when it comes to positive alcohol test results.  However, those who have been more lenient may have to reevaluate their policies if the NTSB recommendations are adopted.