Point .05 BAC Bills Stall

Influential advocacy groups MADD and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety enter the fight.

breathalyzerBills in California and Oregon to lower the blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for driving under the influence (DUI) to 0.05% have stalled in the legislature. A similar bill in Michigan is still being deliberated. More encouragingly, the advocacy and public safety groups pushing for this life-saving limit have been joined by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), one of the strongest anti-DUI voices in the country, and the D.C.-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, promising these issues will not go away quietly.

Under the guidance of the Liam’s Life foundation, California State Senator Jerry Hill and Assembly Member Autumn Burke introduced AB 1713, a 0.05% BAC bill. However, that bill has failed to advance from committee, leaving it on ice at least until next year. Likewise, Oregon Senate Bill 7, introduced by Senate President Peter Courtney, will not move forward despite vocal support from the governor.

“These legislatures need to get their priorities in order,” said Michael Scippa, Public Affairs Director of Alcohol Justice. “Lower BAC limits are evidence-based and popular. Simply put, point 05 saves lives.”

Efforts to lower the DUI threshold have been evidence-tested throughout the developed world. As of 2015, 34 countries had BAC limits of 0.05% or less, including Australia, France, Germany, and Italy. All in all, 2.1 billion people live in countries with the lower DUI threshold, making the U.S. an exception with its 0.08% standard. That exception may be coming to an end, however. Already, the state of Utah has lowered its threshold for DUI to 0.05%, and in recent years, Washington, New York, and Hawaii have joined California, Oregon, and Michigan in considering a similar limit.

The law represents a simple and direct way to prevent alcohol-related deaths. Researchers estimate that a nationally adopted 0.05% BAC level for DUI would save 1,800 lives annually. The life-saving benefits do not simply accrue because of more arrests. Researchers looking at lowered BAC limits in other countries noticed a drop in fatalities at all BAC levels, not just between 0.05% and 0.08%. This suggests that, regardless of police action, drivers see the lower limit as a cue to not drive after drinking.

Recognizing the power of policies promoting the 0.05% BAC, MADD threw its support behind the California and Michigan efforts. “We want to do everything we can to stop these tragedies [of impaired driving deaths],” said MADD National Board Member Carol Leister in a prepared statement. “That’s why MADD made the decision this year to support any state that seeks to lower the BAC threshold to 0.05.”

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, meanwhile, placed a blistering op-ed in the Washington Times, criticizing industry complaints that lower BAC limits are unfair or mistargeted. "Measurable change comes from effective leadership implementing data-driven, research-backed countermeasures such as .05 percent blood alcohol concentration policy," the authors write. "Progress in the fight against drunk driving has been stalled for decades, and new, proven solutions are urgently needed."

MADD has also supported another bill from Sen. Hill of California, SB 545, strengthening the requirements that convicted DUI offenders install ignition interlock devices. Leister declared the law was “long overdue in California.” That bill is currently in front of the senate Appropriations Committee.

READ MORE about Liam’s Law and the fight for Point 05 in California

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Anchorage Goes to the Polls for Charge for Harm

A keg in the snowUPDATE 4/10/19: Prop 9 seems headed for defeat. As of the most recent ballot count, votes opposing the bill lead 34,076 to 29,291. "This is disappointing," said Alcohol Justice Executive Director/CEO Bruce Lee Livingston, "but it's hard for localities to get Charge for Harm bills passed when Big Alcohol spends hundreds of thousands on deceptive advertising to tilt the scales. Congratulations to Anchorage for even proposing this kind of smart, forward-thinking solution to alcohol harm."

Imagine a drug which has the potential to hurt someone, even ruin their life. Imagine that this drug is associated with injury, accidents, and violence. Now imagine if someone asked you to put aside a few cents each time you used this drug, just in case these destructive outcomes happened to you. It just makes sense—you are charged for the potential harm the drug causes. On April 2nd, voters in Anchorage, Alaska, go to the polls to decide on just such a Charge for Harm tax, Proposition 9. And Big Alcohol is flooding the airwaves to keep common sense from becoming law.

The bill, Proposition 9, would raise taxes on alcoholic beverages by 5%. According to Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz, the money would be solely dedicated to detox and treatment services, programs aimed at addressing homelessness, and public safety initiatives. It even has the support of some liquor store owners. But megabrewers Annheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors have jumped into the fray, backing opposition campaigns that try to portray the tax as antithetical to Alaska.

Yet 11 other communities in Alaska already have local alcohol taxes, including Fairbanks and Juneau. Alcohol harm remains a pressing problem for Alaska. According to Proposition 9 backers Recover Alaska, alcohol harm costs the state $1.84 billion and directly causes 285 deaths yearly. As Sgt. Jeremy Conkling of the Anchorage Police Department points out in an op-ed supporting the tax, “[we] are already paying for these social woes. Paying for police and fire service, emergency room costs and emergency housing is expensive, and does do much for keeping individuals or the whole community safe. It’s a Band-Aid for the overall problems.”

Rather than seek short-term help for the chronic tragedy of alcohol harm, Anchorage voters have the opportunity to take responsibility for the healing process. On April 2nd, they have the chance to take the most powerful action in the name of Charge for Harm: make it a normal part of everyday life.

READ MORE about Charge for Harm.

Will California Save Lives with Point .05?

When it comes to fighting dangerous drivers, California is poised to join the developed world.

Intoxicated driving remains a major cause of death in California, having claimed at least 1120 lives in 2017. Now, the California legislature is considering a powerful law to rein in the chaos. Thanks to the work of dedicated activists and conscience-driven lawmakers, a landmark piece of legislation could set a 0.05% Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) as the legal limit for drivers. Currently, the legal limit is 0.08 BAC, and that little downwards tweak could save hundreds of lives.

The bill, AB 1713, authored by State Assemblymembers Autumn Burke and Heath Flora, would make California only the second state in the U.S. to lower the limit. Utah passed a 0.05 bill in 2017, which went into effect at the beginning of this year. But elsewhere in the world, a 0.05BAC is the standard. Countries like Australia, France, Germany, Israel, Spain, Taiwan and Turkey all adhere to this standard, while others like Japan, China, and Sweden, insist drivers have a BAC of 0.03 or lower.

Impetus for the bill derives in part from Liam’s Life, an organization started by Marcus Kowal and Mishel Eder in memory of their son, who was struck by an incapacitated driver in 2015. In their campaign’s tribute to Liam, Kowel and Eder note that “drunk driving is a completely preventable problem, yet it still continues to happen.” “Liam’s Law,” as the bill is nicknamed, has the potential to reduce fatal car crashes as much as 18%, according to international research.

As California deliberate Liam’s Law, Oregon also has a 0.05 BAC bill in front of the legislature. State Senate President Peter Courtney proposed the bill, noting that “this is a Mount Everest move. It’s doable, but it isn’t going to be easy. I’m going to fight like hell to make it happen.” The American Beverage Institute—one of Big Alcohol’s major domestic lobbies—has already objected to the bill, as they did in Utah. Chief among their objections is the fact that the majority of alcohol-related fatalities involved BACs of 0.15 percent or higher.

“We’ve dismissed ABI's nonsense before, and so did Utah” said Michael Scippa, Public Affairs Director of Alcohol Justice, “and it’s scientifically illiterate. We know that Point .05 Saves Lives! Denying that just to protect your profits is murderously ignorant.”

Both California and Oregon’s bills are currently in committee, and will be followed closely by Alcohol Justice.

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