Legal limit for drunk driving could get lower

CHAMPAIGN -- A new proposal is raising the question, how many drinks are too many when getting behind the wheel of a car? The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants a new measuring stick to determine if a driver is drunk.

Instead of a blood alcohol content of 0.08, it wants it dropped to 0.05. The NTSB is trying to lower the amount of alcohol-related deaths on the road. Dropping the legal limit is just one idea.

But bartenders and their customers worry it won't make a difference. Just a few drinks. That's the amount some drivers say they can have and still be safe on the roads. But if the legal limit drops to 0.05, a few might be too many.

"Dropping to 0.08 and dropping to 0.05, I think you're just begging to bring the argument of tolerance back in," said Michael Murphy.

He runs a bar in downtown Champaign. Keeping an eye on customers who've pushed the limit is part of his job.

"0.08 people start to notice when people have had enough and you can tell them, 'you've had enough time to cut it off.' At 0.05, you know, did somebody laugh too hard? I don't know how you would even begin to tell the signs," he said.

Nor do those who drink. One woman had a few sips left in her pint but agreed to a breathalyzer test. She thought she might blow a 0.02, but actually blew a 0.04.

Others knew full well driving wasn't in their future. One man blew a 0.19 after admitting to having about seven drinks.

"I think they should use the science of 'when do people get in trouble' and 'what level' and not just use 'well somebody else is dropping their level so we should drop it' and 'it's for the children and let's save everybody and drop it to nothing,'" said Murphy.

To give you idea, the University of Oklahoma has a blood alcohol calculator online. It says a 180 pound man will hit 0.08 after four drinks during an hour. That same person would hit 0.05 after two or three drinks in that same amount of time.

Several different law enforcement agencies feel lowering the limit could lead to more DUI arrests. But they say most alcohol-related accidents are caused by people well past the 0.08 limit. And unfortunately that part won't change.

"I think the casual person, the person that goes out and has a few beers on the weekend, I think it might discourage them. But the people who are drinking every night, who continue to disobey the law, continue to get intoxicated and get behind the wheel, it's not going to affect them whatsoever."

Captain Acree is a UI police officer. He says his department will work just as hard as it does now to stop drunk drivers regardless if there's a change.

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