Driving Under the Influence (DUI) continues to be a major public health problem in the U.S. Although the number of deaths attributed to DUI have fallen slightly in recent years, still as many as forty percent of those killed on our nation's highways die in crashes where alcohol is involved.
Administrative License Suspension
One of the most effective tools in the fight against drunk driving is administrative driver license suspension, which enables police to suspend, on-the-spot, the license of a driver who tests over the legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) or who refuses to take a test. Advocates supports the administrative suspension of driver licenses for DUI.
Open Container Laws
Some states have yet to prohibit drivers from consuming alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle or to prohibit other motor vehicle occupants from consuming alcohol while the vehicle is in operation. States without these basic laws condone the deadly combination of alcohol consumption and motor vehicle operation. Advocates supports the adoption of open container laws in all states.
A key tool in enforcement of drunk driving laws is increasing the public's perception of the risk of getting caught. One effective way to do this is through well-publicized roadside sobriety checkpoints conducted by law enforcement officers during hours when drivers are more likely to be drinking (usually weekend evenings). In July 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of roadside sobriety checkpoints in its ruling on Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz (88-1897). Advocates supports the use of roadside sobriety checkpoints.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Level
Fifteen states have lowered the legal blood alcohol content to .08 percent from .10 percent, and others are considering proposals to do so. Alcohol begins to affect driving ability and crash likelihood at BACs as low as .02 percent. The probability of a crash begins to increase significantly at .05 BAC and escalates rapidly at .08 and above. Advocates supports efforts to lower the legal blood alcohol content to .05 percent. (Amended December 1993)
"Zero Tolerance" BAC for Those Under 21
All fifty states and the District of Columbia set the legal minimum drinking age at 21; thus, drivers under that age should have no alcohol in their systems. "Zero tolerance" laws typically provide that any amount of alcohol in the body of a younger driver is an offense for which the driver license can be suspended. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have lower BAC limits for underage drivers (0.00 to .02 percent.) Advocates supports the adoption of state "zero tolerance" BAC laws for underage drivers, which set stricter standards for blood alcohol content, and tougher penalties, for violators under the drinking age.
Alcohol impairment is a major factor in motor vehicle crashes. In 1996, 34 percent of fatally injured drivers of passenger vehicles and 41 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists had blood alcohol contents (BAC) at or above .10 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Alcohol begins to affect driving ability and crash likelihood at BACs as low as .02 percent. Alcohol beverage producers heavily promote their products through print advertising and marketing efforts. These efforts are often aimed at young people, who are over-represented in traffic crashes involving alcohol. For more than fifty years the alcohol industry has followed a prudent voluntary course of refraining from using television and radio advertisements to promote alcohol products. This is an especially wise policy in light of the influence that television appears to have on young people. Advocates supports the voluntary industry ban on advertising of alcohol on television and radio. Advocates also endorses the concept of responsible advertising to discourage the dangerous combination of drinking and driving, including warning requirements on alcohol products, advertisements and promotional materials.
National 21-Year-Old Minimum Drinking Age
In 1984, Congress passed and President Reagan signed into law the National Uniform Minimum Drinking Age Act requiring each state to raise their legal drinking age to 21. Every state did so, effectively closing "blood borders" across the country, where young people from a state with a higher drinking age would travel to a state with a lower age in order to drink, and then return home impaired. The 21 drinking age had been one of the top recommendations of the President's Commission on Drunk Driving.
Since 1984, the 21-year-old drinking age has cut teen drunk driving deaths in half. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the cumulative estimated number of lives saved by minimum drinking age laws is 16,513 (1975 through 1996).
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates a 12% increase in 15-20 year- olds by the year 2000. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) predicts that recent increases in alcohol consumption by youth, along with predicted increases in the youth population, will lead to more deaths among young drivers and their passengers. This situation would be exacerbated by a retreat from 21 drinking age laws. Advocates strongly endorses retention of the national uniform minimum drinking age of 21 and is committed to preserving state minimum drinking age laws and fighting efforts to repeal these lifesaving laws. (Adopted April 1996)