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Safety agency wants lower drunk driving limit

While New York residents may know that drivers with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or higher are considered intoxicated, but they may be surprised to learn that the limit is far lower in most other countries. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, only the United States, Canada and Iran allow people to drive with blood alcohol levels higher than .05 percent.

The NTSB released its annual list of safety proposals on Jan. 13, and among the recommendations was a call to lower the drunk driving limit to .05 percent. The agency says that lowering the limit could save a significant number of lives each year on the nation's roads, and it claims that a blood alcohol level of .08 percent makes a driver two times as likely to be in a fatal crash.

The hospitality industry is opposed to reducing the legal driving limit, and a restaurant trade group says that a .05 percent limit would criminalize responsible behavior. If the measure were adopted, a 180-pound man would be able to have only two drinks before reaching the limit, and a woman weighing 100 pounds would only be able to have one drink.

Calculating intoxication based on blood alcohol levels is more complex than simply adding up the number of drinks consumed. The amount of food in the stomach can affect the absorption of alcohol, and the amount of time that passes between drinks is also an important consideration. Certain medical conditions can lead to elevated BAC levels, and sophisticated breath testing equipment may be unreliable if it is not properly maintained and calibrated. The BAC levels yielded by toxicology tests often form the basis of a drunk driving case, and criminal defense attorneys may review the results closely for indications that they could be inaccurate.

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