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Farrelly PC Blog & Case Results

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New Proposal Could Toughen DC DUI Laws

By: Sean Farrelly

The National Highway Transportation Safety Board recently recommended that all 50 states and the District of Columbia adopt a stricter threshold for DUI laws.  The board recommended lowering the legal limit from .08 to .05 in order to allegedly reduce the number of DUI related fatalities.  This recommendation is a part of a larger initiative that is aimed at eventually eliminating drunk driving altogether.  The Safety Board estimates that between 500-800 DUI related fatalities would be eliminated if the lower threshold were applied nationwide.

If this new .05 threshold were adopted in the District of Columbia, it would greatly reduce the amount of alcohol an individual could lawfully consume prior to operating a motor vehicle.  For example, according to a BAC calculator published by the University of Oklahoma, a 200 pound man can consume as many as 5 12 ounce beers in a 1 hour period before reaching a .08 BAC.  In comparison, that same 180 pound man could only consume 3 12 ounce beers prior to reaching the .05 BAC.  Further, if a 120 pound woman happens to be drinking margaritas she will be over the .05 threshold before finishing her second drink.  

Taking steps towards reducing DUI related fatalities is clearly a good thing.  Even as a Washington, DC DUI defense attorney, I am not going to say that there should not be laws aimed at such a goal.  However, reducing the legal limit to .05 would not serve the stated purpose.  I do not believe it would reduce DUI related fatalities, it would simply increase the number of people who are convicted for DUI.  

According to this 2010 study, over 70% of DUI fatalities were caused by drivers with BACs over .15, almost double the current .08 threshold and three times the proposed .05 threshold.  This statistic corresponds to the fact that the average DUI offender has a BAC of between .15 and .17. 

I am not arguing that people who are driving around with a BAC of between .08 and .15 are not dangerous, however, I am saying that they are nowhere near as dangerous as thouse with BACs of .15 or higher.  Only 30% of DUI fatalities are caused by drivers under a .15, which again, is almost twice the current legal limit.  

A new lower threshold of .05 will only serve to increase the number of individuals who are under the impression that they are legally able to drive when in fact they don't realize that as few as two drinks can put them over the limit.  Individuals who are operating a motor vehicle at a .05 or .06 for the most part are not the ones posing a serious threat to others on the road.  It is those people who have 10 cocktails over a two or three hour period and are a .15 or higher BAC who are the real danger.  

Obviously if the legal limit is reduced most responsible drinkers will consume less if they are going to be driving home.  They won't do that because they are concerned about saving lives, they will do it because they won't want to go to jail.  And of course if some people drink less before they drive there will be a reduction in DUI related accidents and fatalities.  Even though that is true, lowering the legal limit is simply not the best way to reduce DUI fatalities in a significant way.  Legislatures should think outside the box and not simply adopt this recommendation because the National Highway Transportation Safety Boards says so. Unfortunately, I don't think we will be so lucky and I have a feeling that if and when this law is passed, I am going to be hearing from a lot more clients in need of a Washington, DC DUI defense attorney.


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