WASHINGTON — The Democratic nominee for mayor of Washington has proposed cutting the legal limit for drunken driving nearly in half, saying the nation’s capital could set a life-saving example for states to follow.
D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser introduced a bill Tuesday that calls for the city to make a blood-alcohol content of .05 percent the legal threshold for drunken driving. That’s about one drink for a woman weighing less than 120 pounds or two for a 160-pound man.
The current limit is .08 percent in the district and all 50 states. The National Transportation Safety Board recommended nearly a year ago that states lower their legal limits to .05 percent, saying it would reduce fatalities.
More than 100 countries have adopted the .05 standard, but no states have followed NTSB’s recommendation. A bill introduced in New York last year to lower the limit to .06 percent has not advanced.
“We in the district can lead on this issue,” said Bowser, who defeated Mayor Vincent Gray in last month’s Democratic primary. The win made her the favorite to win the general election in the overwhelmingly Democratic city, although she faces a credible challenger in Councilmember David Catania, an independent.
Two other councilmembers signaled their support for the bill, which needs seven votes to pass. Catania wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which pushed for the .08-percent threshold, has declined to endorse the lower limit. Instead, the group wants states to require ignition interlock devices for first-time drunken drivers. Such devices prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
“We feel like that by passing these laws and requiring convicted drunk drivers to use these devices, the opportunity to save lives is much greater,” said J.T. Griffin, MADD’s director of government affairs.
Under the legislation, drivers caught with a blood-alcohol level between .05 and .08 percent would face lesser penalties than those with a concentration of .08 or greater. First-time violators of the new lower limit would receive a three-day suspension of their driver’s licenses.
Research has shown there’s no doubt that drivers are impaired at .08 percent, but the research about .05 percent is less conclusive, and such laws would be difficult to enforce, Griffin said.
The NTSB said last year that alcohol-related fatalities declined by more than half within 10 years in European countries that implemented the .05-percent threshold.
Drunken driving claims the lives of about a third of the more than 30,000 people killed each year on U.S. highways.
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