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Why is the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration 0.08%?

As someone who likes to drink, it may seem unfair that the most alcohol you can have in your bloodstream is 0.08%, especially if you reach that level more quickly than others. Factors such as size, gender and food intake can affect how fast your body metabolizes alcohol, making it hard to know when you have reached the maximum.

While drinkers may wish to raise or do away with the number, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommend that all states make 0.05% the new standard, as it would save more lives in car accidents. In fact, one state has done this: Utah's legal limit is 0.05%, and many countries around the world have the same limit or under. Why, then, is 0.08% the chosen number?

The focus on impairment

Decades ago, there was no uniform law. Some states had a higher limit, and some did not have one at all. The government gave financial incentives for all states to adopt the 0.08% standard. At this point, everyone shows signs of impairment that make a motor vehicle collision likely, whereas at a lower number, the effects of alcohol vary more from person to person.

However, no matter what your BAC is, police can pull you over and arrest you if you are driving while impaired, so do not think that just because you are not at 0.08% yet that you are automatically safe. The most important consideration is if you are a danger on the road.

Why the law probably will remain the same

Despite numerous recommendations to lower the number, it is unlikely to happen any time soon. Reasons include the following:

  • A decreased limit could mean that a person would be unable to drive after only one drink due to personal traits.
  • The change would not stop those who get behind the wheel regardless of how much they have drunk.
  • Powerful lobbyists defend the industries that would suffer from stricter alcohol laws.
  • America tends to err on the side of personal rights.

The bottom line is to remember that a number is only one part of the story. Do not risk a DUI no matter how much alcohol you have consumed.

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