EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 15, 2013

Recommendation to lower limit for DWI doesn't go over well

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — The legal limit for driving while intoxicated could get stricter.

But the National Transportation Safety Board recommendation doesn’t have much support in New Hampshire — or elsewhere.

The NTSB recommended yesterday states lower the legal blood alcohol content limit from 0.08 to 0.05 in hopes of reducing alcohol-related crashes.

But many think that level is just too low.

“People wouldn’t be even able to drink a glass of wine with dinner,” said Patrick McHale, bar manager of One Eleven Village Restaurant in Hampstead. “It would be tough on business.”

Salem police prosecutor Jason Grosky said the effect would be minimal.

“I’d be surprised if there is any clear impact,” he said. “I hope it would serve as a deterrent more than anything, but as far as a real impact, I am skeptical.”

So far this year, he said, only 32 people arrested for DWI in Salem agreed to take a breath test. He estimated just one-third of those stopped for DWI agree to the test.

“I think if you lower the threshold, more people are going to refuse breath tests,” he said. “That doesn’t make it easier for us.”

Anyone who refuses a breath test loses the right to drive for 180 days, according to RSA 265-A: 14.

Defense attorney Mark Stevens of Salem, who specializes in DWI cases, isn’t a fan of the proposal.

“It’s a made-up drunk,” he said. “People driving at 0.08 right now aren’t even drunk.”

All 50 states have a BAC limit of 0.08. But that’s the exception; more than 100 countries have a BAC limit of 0.05 or lower.

To reach a BAC of 0.05 would take one drink for a woman weighing less than 120 pounds, two drinks for a 160-pound man. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of 80-proof alcohol in most studies.

“Our research clearly shows that drivers with a BAC above 0.05 are impaired and at a significantly greater risk of being involved in a crash where someone is killed or injured,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said.

Nationally, nearly 10,000 people are killed in alcohol-related crashes and more than 173,000 are injured every year, according to the NTSB.

In New Hampshire, 198 people died in alcohol-related crashes between 2006 and 2010.

Mike Somers, president of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, refused to comment on the NTSB recommendation because he hadn’t seen the report.

Although the legal limit is 0.08, someone can be arrested now with a lower BAC.

“If you are below 0.08 and there is enough evidence to prove that you’re still driving impaired, you can be charged,” State Police Capt. John LeLacheur said.

Grosky said changing the limit would have an impact on the way police conduct fieldside sobriety tests.

“The roadside field sobriety testing that an officer puts a person through is geared toward getting off the road those drivers who are at the level of a 0.08 or above,” he said “But if you lower the BAC limit to a 0.05, what impact does that have roadside?”

Grosky said anyone who passes a field sobriety test is cleared without an arrest.

Peter Thomson, coordinator of the New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency, said the BAC shouldn’t be near the top of the list when it comes to highway safety issues.

“I look at distracted driving more than driving at a 0.05 level,” Thomson said. “We need to ban cell phones while driving. I don’t think grabbing people for drinking one beer is the right thing to do when we have so much to do when it comes to highway safety.”

The lower threshold was one of nearly 20 recommendations made by the board, including that states adopt measures to increase use of alcohol ignition interlock devices. Those require a driver to breathe into a tube before starting their cars.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.