State legislators will consider lower BAC limit

By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo police say they would enforce a lower blood-alcohol limit for drivers, but lawmakers say they don’t know if this week’s National Transportation Safety Board recommendation will have traction this year.
NTSB recommended Tuesday to lower the legal BAC limit from 0.08 to 0.05. State Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said lawmakers will probably see preliminary legislation on the issue but nothing more.
“I think we have good law enforcement and a stout law now,” Holland said. “But, when (the NTSB) suggests something we look at it. I would predict it will get a hearing this next term but probably not come out of committee or pass.”
State Rep. Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo, said he’s sure he will see some legislation concerning the lower limit during the next term but would need to see more research from the NTSB to support a new law.
“I’d like to see evidence of why they feel this needs to be done,” he said. “I’m not a fan of passing feel-good legislation. Saying that, if it saves lives and there is evidence of that, then I’ll absolutely vote and even co-author a bill.”
In 2010, an NTSB study showed 641 people in Mississippi were killed in traffic accidents, 23 of which involved a driver with a BAC between 0.01 and 0.07.
That percentage is in the single digits across the country with the exception of Vermont and the District of Columbia.
The NTSB’s study shows that more than 100 countries have BAC limits set at 0.05 or lower and those countries have lower alcohol-related fatality rates.
Since 1982, the United State’s alcohol-related traffic fatality rate has fallen 74 percent but alcohol-related traffic fatalities still represent almost one-third of all traffic fatalities.
Tupelo Police Lt. Marty Mask said he thinks a lower limit is a step toward safer driving conditions.
“I think it’s going to make the streets and highways safer,” he said. “Our biggest thing is saving lives. Our families and friends are out on the streets just like yours and we don’t want anything happening to anybody.”
Tupelo Police currently write an average of 40 DUI citations each month. In Mississippi Highway Patrol’s Troop F, which covers Benton, Tippah, Alcorn, Tishomingo, Union, Prentiss, Pontotoc, Lee and Itawamba counties, more than a thousand DUI arrests were made in 2012. According to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, Troop F made 846 arrests in 2010, 1,103 in 2011 and 1,189 in 2012.
Mask said lower limits and the extra enforcement would deter drunk driving, making the roadways safer.
“The research backs it up,” he said. “When you reach 0.05, you start a decline in your cognitive and motor skills.”
jb.clark@journalinc.com