The National Transportation Safety Board’s recent recommendation to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit from .08 to .05 created quite a stir, with strong opposition from restaurant and tavern groups.

After I posted a story on the recommendation, Nina Emerson of the UW’s Resource Center on Impaired Driving sent along this map from the World Health Organiztion, which puts a world perspective on the NTSB’s suggestion.

It shows that the U.S., Canada and Mexico are outliers when it comes to drinking and driving. Among industrialized countries, those in North and Central America — along with the U.K. — are almost alone in allowing anything above .05. The next-largest block of land that allows a greater concentration than .05 is in central Africa.

Areas colored red — mostly in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe — are countries where there are no limits, although technically blood-alcohol limits are not needed in several of them because alcohol consumption is illegal.

Here's a short survey put together by a California attorney that shows that while Canada and the United Kingdom, like the U.S., set the bar at .08, they're more vigorous in prosecuting drunken drivers, especially in the U.K., where a second offense results in a three-year driving ban.

In Japan, anyone with an alcohol concentration between .03 and .05 who is involved in an accident, regardless of fault, faces one to three years in prison and possible forced labor.

In China, the most populous country in the world, the bar is set at .02. 

And here's a rundown on MSN of some of the harsher penalties imposed on drunken drivers, ranging from prison time for the spouse of a drunken driver in Malaysia to 80 lashes in the United Arab Emirates.

  • Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.

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(4) comments


This is simple. If a driver has consumed alcohol, then he or she is impaired. Increase the volume of alcohol, then the more impaired he or she becomes. The more impaired a driver is, then the risk of an accident increases resulting in more injuries and death to drivers and passengers on our roadways. The number of people injured or killed on our roadways from alcohol consumption can be calculated based on the number of ounces of alcohol consumed prior to driving. The risk of a driver at .05 may be less than .08, but the risk does exist. And, any level of risk averaged over the increasing volume of vehicles on our roadways will eventually result in a death or injury to somebody. This somebody could be you, your son, your daughter, your mother, your father, your wife, your husband, your friend......Is this fight for the right to have a beer or glass of wine before hitting the road worth it?


Jrclen- way to change the topic. We are talking about Drunk Driving NOT texting (which I agree is wrong) . Every time there is a conversation about drunk driving somebody always brings up texting. You know what? Driving & sleeping is bad too, let's discuss that shall we?


Driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Now look at the draconian punishments for driving while intoxicated compared to the slap on the wrist for texting. This is not about safety, it's about the money and the deep seated hatred of people getting high.

The level or % doesn't need to change at all. People who are driving at .05 - .08 are not a problem. The problem is the people driving at .12 - .20 and the ones who do it over and over. Keep it at .08, enforce it, and get tougher on the people who have a 3rd, 4th, etc offense. Obviously those penalties are not hgigh enough to get their attenttion and change their behavior.

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