Bart Jansen, USA TODAY
States should reduce the blood-alcohol level that qualifies as drunken driving to 0.05% to reduce fatal crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended Tuesday.
The risk of a crash at 0.05% is about half as much as at 0.08%, the limit in all states, according to a safety board report released Tuesday.
The board's recommendation follows an effort in the European Union, which set a goal of cutting alcohol-related fatalities in half by 2010 and succeeded. Europe is now trying to cut the crashes in half again over the next decade.
"This is critical because impaired driving remains one of the biggest killers in the United States," said Deborah Hersman, the NTSB chairman. "To make a bold difference will require bold action. But it can be done."
The American Beverage Institute, a trade group representing 8,000 restaurants, blasted the report for focusing on moderate drinkers rather than more dangerous drunken drivers.
The average woman reaches 0.05% blood-alcohol content after one drink, according to the institute. But more than 70% of drunken-driving fatalities are caused by drivers with at least 0.15%, representing six or seven drinks, it said.
"This recommendation is ludicrous," said Sarah Longwell, the institute's managing director. "Further restricting the moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hard-core drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel."
The board can't make laws or regulations, but the board makes recommendations to states and the federal government. Recommendations include:
• Suggesting states require steering locks that test a driver's breath before convicted drunken drivers return to the road, with incentives through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to encourage states to adopt the locks.
• Creating special courts to handle drunken-driving cases.
The NTSB meeting came on the 25th anniversary of a fiery crash in Carrollton, Ky., that killed 25 people and injured 34 others when a pickup driven by a drunken driver hit a school bus returning from a church trip to an amusement park.
In 1982, the safety board previously recommended that states reduce drunken-driving limit from 0.10% to 0.08%. Utah became the first state to lower its limit in 1983, but all states hadn't followed suit until 2004.
In 1982, about half of all highway deaths involved alcohol-impaired driving and killed 21,113 people. The number of deaths has been cut in half since then, but about 10,000 deaths a year still represent about one-third of traffic fatalities. The numbers have held steady since 1995.
"We have made progress since that deadly night in Kentucky, but not nearly enough," Hersman said.