If the right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins, then the government has a right to prohibit how much you can drink before you get behind the wheel of a car.
A recent report recommends lowering the blood-alcohol content from 0.08 to 0.05 for someone presumed to be drunk while driving. Every state except Utah, which already uses the lower number, says a driver is drunk at 0.08 percent. The general rule of thumb is that two standard drinks in one hour will raise your BAC to 0.05 percent, and one standard drink per hour thereafter maintains that level.
The idea of lowering the threshold isn't in play in Illinois, but it's worth discussing. It's been 20 years since Illinois enacted its 0.08 DUI law, which says a person is considered legally drunk if their blood-alcohol level is 0.08 percent. That's the equivalent of four beers in an hour for a 170-pound man.
A recent Associated Press story quoted the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine as saying the drop in blood-alcohol levels would help eliminate the “entirely preventable” 10,000 alcohol-related driving deaths recorded in the United States every year.
Since 2013, the story said, the National Transportation Safety Board has called on states to reduce the legal BAC for drivers from 0.08 to 0.05. The agency cites research that shows the risk of a fatal crash more than doubles by the time someone reaches the current drunken-driving alcohol limit.
The new report points out that "alcohol-impaired driving remains the deadliest and costliest danger on U.S. roads," accounting for 28 percent of traffic deaths, AP reported. Each day, 29 people in the U.S. die in alcohol-related crashes and many more are injured. Forty percent of those killed are people other than the drunk drivers.
The report made some suggestions to curb the amount of drinking — increased alcohol taxes and decreased availability were high on the list — but Central Illinois authorities told Lee Enterprises that the law already allows officers to arrest someone for drunk driving if they believe the driver is impaired, even if the blood-alcohol level is below the 0.08 threshold.
Increased patrol can be a strong preventative measure, but not every department has the staffing for that. Other departments may need a strong focus on deterring other types of crime.
We cannot keep impaired individuals from getting behind the wheel, but we can make it easier for people to think twice before driving drunk and for police to pull them over.
Regardless of the state's decision in what its BAC level will be, Illinois must make DUI punishment severe and make it difficult for offenders to legally drive again.
Even that might not be enough. It only takes one accident to leave a family shattered.