A new national report calls for lowering the legal blood alcohol concentration for drivers nationwide, with the goal of preventing drunken-driving deaths in the United States.

The current legal limit in all 50 states is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 — the standard set by Congress in 2000, which was backed by a threat to cut highway funds if a state did not comply. (Utah's legislature voted to lower its limit to 0.05, effective at the end of this year.)

The new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which was commissioned by the federal government, says the limit should be lowered to 0.05 nationwide — the equivalent of one to two drinks for most women weighing more than 120 pounds or two to three drinks for most men weighing more than 180 pounds. (Factors such as how recently someone has eaten can affect blood alcohol concentration.)

Deaths and injuries due to drunken driving are 100 percent preventable: Just don't drink and drive. But a lot of Americans either don't understand this, or have been unwilling to accept it. Several studies, including one involving college students, found that many people who drink alcohol severely underestimate how drunk they actually are.

Even after drunken-driving deaths fell by 27 percent from 2005 to 2014 in the United States, to reach historic lows, they still accounted for almost one out of every three traffic deaths — or an average of one every 53 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

These are far too many deaths, given that they are totally preventable and that almost 40 percent of the deaths are of innocent victims such as pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles.

One study, by researchers at the University of Chicago, estimated that lowering the blood alcohol limit to .05 would reduce fatal alcohol-related crashes by 11 percent, based on research from other countries — more than 100 of which have already dropped their limits to .05.

Even at .05 percent, drivers experience reduced coordination and ability to track objects and difficulty steering, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But at .08 percent, add trouble controlling speed and difficulty processing information and reasoning — which bolsters the argument for reducing the blood alcohol limit to .05.

Opposition to decreasing the allowable blood-alcohol limits has come mainly from the beverage industry, which went on the attack when Utah passed the law lowering the blood alcohol limit there, the Deseret News reported. This included mounting an ad campaign to discourage tourists from visiting Utah.

There's a strong argument to be made for reducing blood alcohol limits nationwide, rather than having limits that go up or down when state borders are crossed. Drunken-driving deaths are needless deaths, which are costly in both human and financial terms — in the end, everyone pays, in the form of higher insurance premiums, for example.

With a teetotaller president in the White House, now is a good time to look at drafting a national policy to reduce drunken-driving fatalities. But even if Congress has no appetite for this, states such as Oregon can follow Utah's lead and pass their own laws. Lives could depend on it.

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

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