NTSB’s Proposed 0.05 BAC Limit Unlikely to Become Law in New Jersey Anytime Soon

There has been a bit of concern in some quarters about the future of a stricter legal limit for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey, as well as other states across the country. Ever since the recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the blogosphere has been buzzing with scenarios of doubled, tripled or quadrupled instances of drunken driving arrests, DWI cases and corresponding convictions.

As New Jersey drunk driving defense attorneys, my staff is also affected by changes in the law, though our main goal is still to provide skilled legal representation to those motorists accused of DWI or drug DUI. But the issue of a tightening of the state’s blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) limit as it applies to the legal definition of drunk driving is still of great interest to us and others in our field of practice.

So, the question remains, could a lower DWI standard be in the works any time soon? And how would that change affect drunk driving enforcement as well as other aspects of DWI and DUI legal defense. Well, the short answer, if we are to believe earlier news articles, is not for some time. In fact, some have suggested that a revised BAC of 0.05 percent, which tightens up the current standard by nearly 40 percent, could be decades in the making for us in the Garden State.

Despite the NTSB’s strident recommendation for stricter BAC limits across the U.S., any changes both here and elsewhere is expected to come not in knee-jerk fashion, but at a much slower, measured pace. Very measured if we read between the lines.

Taking legislative history as a guide, the current 0.08 percent BAC limit here in New Jersey could stand in the state’s legal statutes for quite some time; decades, perhaps, is what some experts have suggested. As we all know, the wheels of justice turn mighty slowly at times, and so do the gears of lawmaking in Trenton.

Although the NTSB has called for a lower BAC threshold, the last time the agency recommended a similar change (from 0.10 to 0.08 percent) was back in 1982. It wasn’t until the early 2003 that New Jersey responded by adding the lowered limit of 0.08 percent into law, which coincidentally corresponded with changes in federal highway funding requirements.

Although other states may be instituting a lower 0.05 BAC limit sooner than ours, the odds of a major change coming quickly are slim. Even state safety officials have acknowledged that the recommendation from the NTSB will not result in a rapid change to the Garden State’s drunk driving statutes.

According to the Associated Press, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association stated that it was difficult enough to institute the 0.08 BAC limit among most states, which would lead most people to figure that another significant lowering of the standard won’t come any time soon. Instead, it’s likely that states such as New Jersey will continue to put pressure on high-BAC offenders, not to mention those individuals who are caught again and again driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

When it comes to how much alcohol typically equates to 0.05 percent BAC, as little as one alcoholic beverage may be the extent of the intake for some people. That’s a hard fact to swallow, no pun intended, when adults of all ages consider that alcohol is a legal substance served at restaurants, bars, convenience stores and supermarkets. On this topic, the American Beverage Institute has referred to the NTSB recommendation as a “ludicrous” proposal, but we might have expected that kind of response.

Could lower DUI standards be decades away in Pa., N.J.?; Philly.com; May 16, 2013
Should DUI Alcohol Limit Be Lowered To 0.05 Percent?, Patch.com, May 15, 2013