The National Transportation Safety Board has voted to recommend to states that they lower the blood-alcohol content that constitutes drunk driving, according to NBC News.
Currently, all 50 states have set a BAC level of .08, reflecting the percentage of alcohol, by volume, in the blood. If drivers have a BAC level of .08 or above, they can be arrested and charged.
The NTSB recommends dropping that to a BAC level of .05.
Each year, nearly 10,000 people die in alcohol-related traffic accidents and 170,000 are injured, according to the NTSB. While that’s a big improvement from the 20,000 who died in alcohol-related accidents 30 years ago, it remains a consistent threat to public safety.
The United States, Canada and Iraq are among a small handful of countries that have set the BAC level at .08.
Most countries in Europe, including Russia, most of South America and Australia, have set BAC levels at .05 to constitute drunken driving.
When Australia dropped its BAC level from .08 to .05, provinces reported a 5 to18 percent drop in traffic fatalities, NBC News reported.
The NTSB believes that if all 50 states changed their standard to .05, nearly 1,000 lives could be saved each year. It is also considering other steps to help bring down the death rates on America’s roads.
The NTSB is an investigative agency that advocates on behalf of safety issues. It has no legal authority to order any change to state or federal law.
It would be up to individual states whether to accept the NTSB’s recommendation, and up to the Department of Transportation whether to endorse the recommendations.
The last move from .10 to .08 BAC levels took 21 years for each state to implement.
Few groups in the Bay Area were eager to embrace today's recommendation.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, gave the proposal a tepid endorsement.
Mary Klotzbach, MADD's national public policy chairwoman and a Livermore resident, said the organization is "excited the NTSB is bringing publicity to the issue" of drunken driving but "supports what the law is currently."
She said MADD is focusing their energy on its campaign to eliminate drunk driving completely rather than pushing for a lower blood-alcohol content level.
That campaign, which began in 2006, emphasizes the use of new technology such as the installation of ignition interlock devices for DUI offenders and greater police visibility in the form of DUI checkpoints and other safeguards.
"What we have is the campaign, and the campaign is working," she said. "We're staying focused on that."
Bruce Kapsack, a Bay Area DUI attorney, said he doesn't believe the NTSB's proposal is backed by solid scientific evidence.
"Not everyone is impaired for driving at .05 percent," he said.
Bay City News contributed to this report.