If Georgia follows the recommendation, the legal limit would go from .08 to .05, at which point a driver could be arrested for drunken driving.
Kennesaw resident David Ermutlu, who treated people in DUI-related accidents many times while working part-time as an EMT for 16 years, is on board with the change.
“Drunk driving is a huge problem in this country,” he said. “Anything we can do to make travel on our roads safer is, in my opinion, a good idea.
“If they lower the limit, there may be people who think twice about drinking and driving because they know they could get a DUI for a lower blood alcohol level.”
But other motorists see it differently.
The legal limit for alcohol has already been reduced several times: from .12, to .10, to .08. Taking it down to .05 would result in more DUI cases flooding into the court system. Some motorists, and even some safe-driving advocates, question whether it would make the roads safer.
“This isn’t about safety,” said Brian Neu of Marietta. “It’s about ego, power and money.”
Neu believes DUIs are “big business” for trial lawyers and municipalities. He said intimidation by the federal government can be expected.
In 2000, Neu said he remembers seeing Mothers Against Drunk Driving standing next to former President Bill Clinton as he signed a bill to withhold highway funds unless states lowered their limits to .08.
“John Stossel (the journalist) has highlighted studies that show that lowering to .08 has done nothing to reduce the amount of DUI-related fatalities, because as the police are off the road booking a .08 offender who was unlikely to cause an accident, that officer isn’t on the road observing for visible signs of the 0.10-plus drivers who are very dangerous,” he said. “It will exacerbate the problem of 0.10-plus drivers slipping by the absent police who are now off booking everyone who had a single glass of beer with dinner.”
Restaurants or bars affected?
Debbie Scalora, the general manager at Paddy’s Pub and Eatery off Cobb Parkway in Kennesaw, said she isn’t worried about it affecting their business.
“If we see someone who we feel like has had too much to drink, we try to get them in a cab,” she said. “I’ve even gone as far as going out to people’s cars when they are trying to get in them to tell them they can’t drive.”
She said she realizes that some people will still drink and drive but regardless of the limit, they will continue to monitor their customers’ alcohol consumption.
Liz Dunn, the owner of Mulligan’s Food and Spirits off Roswell Street in Marietta, thinks differently though, both personally and professionally.
“This will most definitely affect bars and restaurants to the negative,” she said. “Those that enjoy a glass of wine with their pasta or a beer with their burger will be gun shy to do so.”
She also thinks changing the law would turn responsible social drinkers into revenue makers for the government.
“I have not seen believable statistics to back up the argument that doing so would reduce alcohol related accidents and/or fatalities,” she said, adding that data shows a woman weighing 120 pounds who consumes one drink, and a man weighing 160 pounds who consumes two drinks would theoretically be within the .05 range.
Anti-drunk driving groups
MADD Executive Director Barry Martin said he thought expanding the ignition interlock laws to include first-time DUI offenders would be more effective in making the roads safer than lowering blood alcohol levels.
“It’s not so black and white for us,” he said. “And this issue is one of the more complicated issues we’ve had to deal with here.”
MADD agree that the reduction to .05 could save lives and reduce the number of people driving drunk but they’d rather fight their battle with state politicians to get the ignition interlock system required for all first-time DUI offenders.
“It’s a question of which battle do you want to fight,” he said. “We have a lot of momentum in the ignition interlock laws.”
They also have more successful data behind the interlock system as opposed to reducing the limit.
“An ignition interlock law on .08 or above has shown to reduce the number of drunk driving incidents and anyone who has it is 67 percent less likely to have a second DUI,” he said.
Martin said statistics show the system could save about 2,500 lives nationally, compared to about 500 lives being saved because of a .05 drinking and driving limit.
DUI attorney reacts to suggestion
Marietta attorney Kim Keheley Frye, whose private practice works closely with DUI offenders, said she thinks the proposal isn’t necessarily about saving lives but to get legislative approval for the ignition interlock system Martin mentioned.
“It’s definitely a double-edged sword so while the litigation would make for a better business for me, I’ve seen a lot of lives ruined from even one DUI arrest,” she said.
Frye also believes there is some room for improvement with the DUI testing.
“The way that it’s measured, whether it’s breath or blood, there is room for error,” she said. “With breath, there is error in the machines, and with blood, error in collection and testing.”
She said she learned during multiple legal education seminars that the Breathalyzer test discriminates against women because the readings can fluctuate based on whether a woman is ovulating.
“Women’s lungs are also smaller so in order to get enough 210 liters into the machines, they have to breathe harder,” she said. “And you know there’s that police saying, ‘The harder you blow, the higher you go.’”
Data also shows that a woman weighing around 120 pounds could register a .05 after just one drink. A man weighing up to 160 pounds would clear that threshold after two.
“We obviously don’t want to condone this, or for this to occur, but we would give permanent criminal records to many, many residents here in Cobb if the limit was reduced,” Frye said.
Many of her clients are first-time DUI offenders who struggle with the idea of paying so much in fines, serving a year on probation and having this offense on their record for a long time.
“This ensnares all walks of life,” she said.