Drunk driving kills thousands of people in the U.S. every year. To combat that, in 2003 Michigan lowered the legal blood-alcohol limit. But that limit is set to run out in 2018. Now the legislature is considering a bill to extend that lower limit. How long appears to be part of the debate.
In 2015, in the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes (one third of all traffic fatalities that year). That included 303 Michigan residents. In 2016, that number dropped to 271.
Drunk driving accidents are especially likely to be fatal. Alcohol impairs a driver's ability to react to changing road conditions. That means many alcohol-related accidents happen at higher speeds because the driver may not see the risk in time to brake as much as he or she otherwise would. Even when a drunk driver sees a threat, loss of coordination increases the chance that he or she will over react and cause a collision.
Drunk driving is measured according to blood alcohol content (BAC): the amount of alcohol that appears in a person's blood. It is usually measured through a breathalyzer test of the person's saliva. However, it can also be measured directly by a blood test, particularly if the alleged drunk driver is unconscious due to an accident.
Before 2003, it was legal to drive with a blood alcohol content of up to 0.10%. BAC depends on a person's size, weight, and gender, as well as the type and size of alcoholic drinks in question. At 160 pounds, an average man could have consumed four 12oz. beers and still legally drive. Smaller, lighter people, and women tend to become intoxicated much sooner.
Then, in 2003, the Michigan legislature lowered the limit to 0.08%, or one fewer beer for the 160-pound man. That may not sound like a big difference, but it can be.
NHTSA reports that at 0.08% a person will typically experience poor muscle coordination, which can affect balance, speech, vision, reaction time, or hearing. That degree of intoxication can make it harder to detect danger, or make smart judgment calls. It can also impair self-control, reasoning, and memory. But by the time he or she hits 1.0%, a driver will experience a clearly reduced reaction time, loss of control, slurred speech, poor coordination, and slowed thinking. This can substantially reduce the driver's ability to maintain proper lane position or brake appropriately, making him or her a threat to others on the road.
The 2003 law setting the BAC limit to 0.08% wasn't a permanent change. The Michigan legislature has already voted to extend it twice, but now that law is set to expire on October 1, 2018. If it does, the legal limit will go back up to 0.10%. That will put more high-risk drivers behind the wheel. So on June 12, 2017, Congressman Klint Kesto, a Republican from Oakland County, and Patrick Green, a Democrat from Macomb County, sponsored a pair of bills, HB4547 and HB4548, to remove that "sunset provision" and make 0.08% the permanent law of the land.
The bills recently passed in the House, but their purpose had changed in the process. Rather than making the change permanent, the approved version of the bills simply extend the sunset provision once again. If the Senate passes the amended bills, the 0.08% limit will stay in place until 2023. That means five years from now Congress will once again face the decision of whether to extend the lower limit or put more Michigan residents at risk of dangerous drunk drivers.
At Sachs Waldman, we have extensive experience helping injured motorists after an drunk driving auto accident. We can help you recover auto insurance benefits and third-party negligence damages. Contact our Detroit personal injury law office at 1-800-638-6722.