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NTSB pushes for lower DWI threshold

WASHINGTON -- States should cut their threshold for drunken driving by nearly half -- from a 0.08 blood alcohol level to 0.05 -- matching a standard that has substantially reduced highway deaths in other countries, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended Tuesday.

The difference between 0.08 and 0.05 is one to two mixed drinks, glasses of wine or 12-ounce beers over three hours, depending on gender and body size. A 180-pound man could consume four drinks in three hours before reaching .05, and a 140-pound woman could have three drinks over the same time period, according to charts prepared by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Health, Education & Wellness

In Europe, the share of traffic deaths attributable to drunken driving was reduced by more than half within 10 years after the standard was dropped to 0.05 or lower, the report said.

NTSB officials said it wasn't their intention to prevent drivers from having a glass of wine with dinner, but they acknowledged that with a threshold as low as .05, the safest thing for people who have only one or two drinks is not to drive at all.

Alcohol concentration levels as low as .01 have been associated with driving-related performance impairment, and levels as low as .05 have been associated with significantly increased risk of fatal crashes, the board said.

Advocates for the beer and liquor industry criticized the recommendation. "Between .05 and .08 is not where fatalities are occurring," said Sarah Longwell of the American Beverage Institute. "This is like people are driving through an intersection at 90 miles an hour and so you drop the speed limit from 35 to 25 -- it doesn't make any sense."

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