See also: .08 BAC Facts not Fairy Tales
See also: American Beverage Institute

Lowering the BAC to .08 is a Step in the Wrong Direction

Reducing the legal blood alcohol limit to .08% is an unproven approach that doesn't focus on the real cause of the drunk driving problem. Here are the facts:

  • Great success in the fight against drunk driving - Nationwide, the number of fatalities involving a drunk driver has declined by 41% since 1982. And the number of fatalities involving a teenaged drunk driver has dropped by an astonishing 65% over the same period. Additional progress needs to recognize the success that has already occurred, and why it has taken place.
  • Education and awareness efforts paying off - The American public is now keenly ware of the dangers of drunk driving. For example, according to a 1998 survey, 109 million American adults say that they have been a designated driver or been driven home by one. The poll found that 91% of adult say it is a "good" or "excellent" idea to use a designated driver.
  • Attention should be paid to the "high-BAC" driver - The drunk driving problem persist largely because of a stubborn group of hard core repeat offenders who drink to very high levels of intoxication and then drive. Less than 2% of all auto fatalities in 1998 involved a driver with a BAC between .08 and .10, while 27% of all fatalities involved a driver with a BAC above .15. It is critical to target high-BAC drivers, since they are involved in 14 times more traffic deaths than ,08-.10 drivers!
  • An unfair attract on all drinkers - Proponents claim they are not anti-alcohol, but in reality .08 laws must be seen as a first step toward making it a criminal offense to drive after any drinking. MADD has publicly stated that this is a long-term goal - to legislate a "zero tolerance policy" that criminalizes anyone who drinks and drives, even if they are not intoxicated and not a menace on the road. This is unfair overreaction, since the objective evidence shows that drunk driving fatalities are overwhelmingly caused by hard-core, high-BAC drivers, not social drinkers.
  • Per se .08 laws aren't needed - Many states already have laws that provide for a drunk driving conviction if a person is visibly impaired, even if their BAC is below .10 percent. For example, if a driver is swerving, runs a stop sign and can't walk a straight line, but registers at .08 percent BAC, they can already be convicted in most states. That is a fairer approach than automatically arresting everyone between .08 and .10, even if they show no visible signs of impairment.
  • There's a lack of evidence that .08 works --Although some people claim that hundreds of live could be saved if all states had a .08 law, the U. S. General Accounting Office says that such a claim is not justified, based on its comprehensive analysis of the scientific studies currently available on this issue. The GAO specifically describes one study's conclusion - that 500 to 600 lives could be saved each year - as "unfounded."
  • There are better approaches available - Most states are rejecting .08 laws in favor of other approaches. Last year, despite much arm-twisting by the federal government, nearly 20 states considered .08 proposals and rejected them. Instead of .08 policy makers should enact laws that can effectively deal with high BAC repeat offenders ... and exercise the kind of oversight necessary to insure that those laws are effectively enforced and prosecuted. That way, the tremendous improvements of the 1980's and '90's can be matched, or bettered, in the coming decade.

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"Drunk Driving: keep the focus on real solutions, a .08% BAC law will not reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities" Industry & Government Affairs, Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc.


We all would like to eliminate drunk driving from our nation's roadways completely. Unfortunately, some approaches to reduce drunk driving may be well-intentioned, but they just don't work.

Objectively looking at the facts clearly shows that enthusiasm for lowering the permissible BAC limit to .08% is misguided. Not only is it ineffective, but the .08 issue diverts valuable attentions from real solutions and creates a class of "criminals" who are not the source of the nation's drunk driving problem.

The following pages:

  • provide some basic facts concerning drunk driving in the U. S.,
  • show why .08% BAC laws are off-target, and
  • offer some alternative approaches that hold more promise of making a real impact on drunk driving.


Drunk Driving Fatalities at New Lows

Many people believe that drunk driving, and especially teenaged drunk driving are much worse today than they were a few years ago.

Not true!

According to the latest data from the U. S. Department of Transportation:

  • Nationwide, the total number of fatalities in crashes involving a drunk driver (BAC of .10 or higher) has dropped from 18,444 in 1982 to 10,959 in 1998 - a 41% decline.
  • This has occurred even though there are more drivers on the road, driving more miles each year. The fatality rate involving drunk drivers in 1982 was 11.6 death per billion miles driven, versus 4.2 in 1998 - a decline of 64%.

Chart: Total Fatalities in Drunk-Driving Crashes


Teen Fatalities Down Even More

  • It comes as a surprise to many people that the success in fighting teenaged drunk driving is even greater.
  • According to the NHTSA, the number of people killed in crashes involving a teenaged drunk driver dropped from 3,597 in 1982 to 1,264 in 1998 - a 65% decline.
  • Taking into account the increase in driving over the same period, the fatality rate involving teen drunk drivers in 1982 was 2.26 death per billion miles driven, compared to 0.48 in 1998.
  • That's nearly 5 times higher in 1982 than it is today.

Chart Total Fatalities in Teen Drunk-Driving Crashes


Education & Awareness Efforts

These remarkable statistics reflect a sustained effort on the part of thousands of concerned groups and civic organizations, private business and government.

The brewing industry has also been heavily involved in the fight against drunk driving"

  • Anheuser-Busch's newest commitment, its "We All Make a Difference" campaign, and similar programs by other brewers, represent an investment of millions of dollars in the last 10 years, creating billions of viewer reminders not to drink and drive.
  • The brewing industry does more to promote the responsible and moderate use of its products then any other industry whose products can potentially be misused or abused.
  • Industry programs combat underage drinking, promote designated driver usage, discourage campus alcohol abuse...even train alcohol servers in ways to reduce over consumption among their customers.


Designated Drivers on the Rise

Obviously, the American public is now keenly aware of the dangers of driving drunk...and the vast majority of us are taking precautions against it.

For example, more and more people now use a designated driver. According to a 1998 poll by Data Development Corporation, use of designated drivers is very popular - 109 million American adults have been a designated driver or been driven home by one!

This same poll found that 91 % of adults say it is a "good" or "excellent" idea to use a designated driver.

The Public: 91% say Designated Driver
Programs are a Good or Excellent Idea




Despite these gains, a key problem remains - the "hard-core" repeat offender

To understand the critical role of high-BAC drivers in the drunk driving problem, consider a few basic facts:

  • Almost 6-0% of all driving fatalities involve no alcohol at all, but are caused by other factors such as:
    - sleepiness,
    - excessive speed,
    - driver inattention,
    - poor road conditions, and
    - use of illicit drugs.
  • Of those fatalities which do involve alcohol, the vast majority involve so-called "hard core" drinking drivers who consume to very high levels of intoxication.

    - 27% of all driver fatalities involve drunk driving offenders who have BACs of .15% or higher.
    - Only 2% of all driver fatalities involve "low-BAC" drivers with BACs between .08 and .10.

This breakdown of driver fatalities, by BAC is shown in the bar chart on the following page.


BACs Among Fatally Injured Drivers, 1998

It is critical that we strategically target high-BAC drivers. They are involved in 14 times more traffic deaths than .08-.10 BAC drivers!


Separating Myth from Fact on .08

Myth: Hundreds of lives could be saved if all states adopted a .08 law.

NHTSA and MADD often cite a study by sociologist Ralph Hingson that claims 500-600 lives would be saved each year if all states had a .08 law.

However, a recent U. S. General Accounting Office (GAO) report, Highway Safety: Effectiveness of State .08 Blood Alcohol Laws, has evaluated the Hingson study and found that:

"this study has been criticized by many traffic safety experts both inside and outside of NHTSA and has methodological limitations that call its results into question." (p.14)

GAO states that:

"the study's conclusion that 500 to 600 fewer fatal crashes would occur annually if all states had .08 BAC laws is unfounded." 9p. 15, emphasis added).


Three Newer Studies

In April, 1999, NHTSA released three new .08 studies, again claiming that they provide additional support for the claim that .08 BAC laws help to reduce alcohol-related fatalities.

However, the GAO report finds numerous instances where NHTSA has again overstated facts concerning these new studies:

  • One study omitted persons under age 21 from the analysis. GAO calls this an arbitrary decision and finds that including them "...would have change the study results," yielding " statistically significant reductions associated with .08 BAC laws for drivers at low BAC levels" (p. 22, emphasis added).
  • The second study, which examined .08 effects in 11 states, found statistically significant effects in only 2 of the ll states studied - he other 9 failed in the analysis.

And the third study, a single-state analysis of North Carolina concluded that the state's .08 law had "no statistically significant decrease in alcohol-related crashes" after the .08 laws went into effect (p.19).

Conclusion: The scientific evidence does not demonstrate that .08 BAC laws reduce alcohol-related crashes, despite claims by NHTSA and the activists.



MYTH: California's experience with .08 proves its effectiveness

Although frequently cited as evidence of the effectiveness of .08 legislation, the California Department of Motor Vehicles disagrees, stating that it could find:

" statically significant effects associated with the time of the .08% law."

Source: "The General Deterrent Impact
of California's .08% Blood Alcohol Concentration
Limit and Administrative Pre Se License
Suspension Laws"

Research and Development Section, Division of
Program and Policy Administration,
California Department of Motor Vehicles
September 1995



MYTH: Most states are adopting the .08 BAC standard.


Despite heavy-handed efforts by the federal government to push .08 legislation onto the states, most states have rejected this approach

In 1999, only Texas has adopted the .08, while 16 other states considered and rejected it:

States Rejecting .08 legislation States Adopting .08 legislation
North Dakota
South Carolina
West Virginia
Rhode Island 7/2000



Better Approaches Do Exist

So many states have rejected .08 simply because lawmakers have come to understand that there are many other approaches available to them that can increase the certainty that a drunk driver is caught, convicted and adequately punished...and which give special consideration to the core problem of high-BAC offenders.

Example: graduated penalties

States are starting to enact statutes which impose different penalties based on the BAC of an offender. Arizona's recent "Loper's law," for example, imposes harsher penalties if an offender's BAC exceeds .18 and for repeat offenses.

Possible extensions to this approach include:

  • Mandatory medical and psychological assessments for high-BAC drivers,
  • Tiered penalties, tied to a wider range of BAC levels, for repeat offenders,
  • Reducing judicial discretion in sentencing, especially for high-BAC offenders, and
  • Applying administrative actions to lower-BAC offenders, and both administrative and criminal actions to high-BAC offenders.


Anheuser-Busch and the brewing industry strongly support meaningful and effective efforts to reduce drunk driving on our nation's roadways.

But .08 BAC laws aren't the answer - the are actually a step in the wrong direction.

Instead of approaches like .08, policy makers will accomplish far more by keeping their focus on the real source of the drunk driving problem. That means enacting laws that can effectively deal with high-BAC repeat offenders...and exercising the kind of oversight necessary to insure that those laws are effectively enforced and prosecuted.

In that way, the enormous improvements of the 1980s and 90s can me matched, or bettered, in the coming decade.

updated 12/06/16