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Editorial: How to enjoy a drink without driving drunk

Updated: June 21, 2013 6:10AM

If you were a 120-pound woman and drank more than just a single beer within 90 minutes before hitting the road, would it be fair if the cops charged you with drunken driving?

What if you were a 160-pound man and drank more than two beers? Should you be kept off the road?

The feds say yes. The booze industry says no. We see a practical American middle ground.

The National Transportation Safety Board last week called on all 50 states to lower the legal limit for driving from a 0.08 to 0.05 blood-alcohol content. Doing so, the NTSB said, would save tens of thousands of lives, as much of Europe and Australia has learned.

The NTSB says people generally fail to appreciate how much even moderate drinking can impair driving skills by diminishing reaction time and attentiveness and increasing drowsiness.

In several European countries where the allowable blood-alcohol level was reduced to 0.05 from 0.08, traffic fatalities dropped by 8 to 12 percent among people aged 18 to 49. In Queensland, Australia, traffic fatalities dropped by 18 percent.

But this argument bumps up hard against acceptable social norms in the United States, if not in Queensland. We can’t find a poll to back us up on this, but we suspect most Americans would balk at the sight of a 120-pound driver who drinks, say, a beer and half being treated like a criminal by a state trooper.

We can only imagine how much more police manpower such a change would take to enforce, and we’d rather see the police focus on serious drunken drivers.

Our question is why 0.08 to 0.05? Why not reduce the maximum allowed blood alcohol content to 0.07 or even 0.06? That would not reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes entirely, but better balance legitimate safety concerns with widely accepted social practices.

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