Federal Agency Calls for Further Lowering of the Legal BAC Limit in DWI Cases

By RRZEicons (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsLaws in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico state that a person who drives with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher is presumed to have committed the offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI). This “legal limit” for BAC may be lower for certain individuals, including people under the age of 21, school bus drivers, and commercial truckers. Laws against DWI have existed for almost as long as the automobile itself, but the use of BAC as an indicator of impairment is much more recent. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the federal agency that investigates major accidents and makes safety recommendations, has recommended lowering the legal limit even further, to 0.05 percent. This has met with opposition from unexpected sources and has failed to gain much traction among state lawmakers.

New Jersey was one of the first states to enact a law against DWI. The law, passed in 1906, simply stated that “[n]o intoxicated person shall drive a motor vehicle.” Current law in this state, of course, goes into much more detail. A first DWI offense with BAC of at least 0.08 percent, but less than 0.10 percent, is subject to penalties that might include a fine between $250 and $400, up to 30 days’ imprisonment, and a three-month license suspension. Penalties are higher if the BAC is 0.10 percent or above, or for a second or subsequent offense. BAC evidence is not necessary for a New Jersey court to convict someone of DWI, but it is a prominent part of many, possibly most, DWI cases.

The NTSB has recommended lowering the legal BAC limit to 0.05 percent since at least 2013. It issued a report in April of that year with multiple proposed legislative changes, including a 0.05 percent legal limit. NTSB officials have repeated this recommendation several times since then, most recently in mid-December 2015. Supporters claim that it will further reduce the number of traffic fatalities, while others say that a lower BAC limit is unlikely to have such an effect. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) came out against the recommendation in 2013, saying it would be a “waste of time.”

According to the History Channel, the first DWI arrest took place in London, England in 1897. The first device to measure intoxication, known as the “Drunkometer,” was invented in 1938. The first breathalyzer came along in 1953, but BAC did not become widespread in DWI law until the 1980s, after the founding of MADD in 1980 and the NTSB’s recommendation in 1982 to establish a legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Legislation passed by Congress in 1982 made the receipt of federal highway funds contingent on several state legislative items, including a BAC limit of 0.10 percent or lower. According to the NTSB, states passed 729 new DWI laws between 1981 and 1986. Federal legislation passed in 1998 offered incentives to states that lowered the BAC limit to 0.08 percent by October 1, 2003. Every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico made this change by the deadline. New Jersey did so in 2000.

Evan M. Levow defends the rights of people who are facing charges of alleged DWI in New Jersey courts. We have dedicated 100% of our law practice at Levow DWI Law to these types of cases. Contact us online or at (877) 593-1717 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with an experienced and skilled DWI defense advocate. We are available 24/7 to assist you.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Township Offers Free Rides in Effort to Reduce DWI, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, November 24, 2015

Medical Marijuana Patient Acquitted of DWI, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 5, 2015

How Federal Law Could Affect a New Jersey DWI Case, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, July 22, 2015

Photo credit: By RRZEicons (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.