Lowering the standard blood-alcohol concentration limit from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent was one of several suggestions the National Transportation Safety Board made this week to reduce the number of alcohol-impaired drivers.
But it's about more than numbers, Lt. Anne Ralfton, Ohio State Highway Patrol public information officer, said.
"If you're impaired, you're impaired," she said Thursday. Impaired drivers will be taken in even if they don't test over the legal alcohol limit.
It is becoming more frequent for drivers to be impaired due to drug use or a combination of alcohol and drugs, including prescription drugs, Ralfton said.
She said the legal limit when she began working for the patrol was a BAC of .10 percent. The .08 level was adopted in 2001 after legislation put in place by President George W. Bush required the lower limit in order for states to receive federal highway funding.
Even if the limit drops again, the patrol's message and mission remains the same: to fight drunken driving and to encourage people to prepare transportation ahead of time when they know they will be drinking.
A few sobering drunken driving statistics:
10,000 people died in alcohol-related car accidents in 2011
31 percent of all highway fatalities are alcohol-related
412 people died in alcohol-related car accidents in Ohio in 2012
3,500 injuries were due to alcohol-impaired drivers in Ohio in 2012
FatalityAnalysis Reporting System and Ohio MADD
In 2012, Ralfton said the patrol held more than 150 operating a vehicle while intoxicated checkpoints. With the weather clearing, she said the frequency of these will increase and that they will run about 150 check points in 2013.
"It's a good tool the law can use. It serves as a deterrent," Ralfton said.
In its report Tuesday, the NTSB also advised increasing the use of alcohol ignition interlock systems that require drivers to pass a Breathalyzer test before they can start their vehicle. Ralfton said this is a post-arrest sanction that is handled by the courts. Ohio law permits the requirement of certified ignition interlock systems for repeat OVI offenders.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, while it does not support the drop in the BAC level, does advocate for the interlock systems to be put in the vehicles of all offenders.
Doug Scoles, executive director of Ohio MADD, said placing the systems in the vehicles of all offenders would reduce fatalities by 1,000 per year. Since the passage of the .08 BAC legislation, Scoles said the number of fatalities has essentially flat-lined at about 10,000 a year.
"I really don't think we're going to make any great breakthroughs unless we use technology as the answer," he said.
Scoles said MADD promotes the use of advanced technology to prevent any drivers from starting their car without passing a BAC test. He said this may be in the form of placing a finger on a scanner that could be placed in a dashboard.
Scoles said the technology for this is still being developed to make it quicker and unobtrusive. Having it in every vehicle he said would save an additional 7,000 lives.
"The safest course of action is not to drink and drive at all," Scoles said.
State Trooper Lauren Merz, who sits on the board of Students Making A Safer Highway (or S.M.A.S.H.), said this is also the view of S.M.A.S.H., a program that is a joint effort between the state patrol, Trumbull County and 4-H.
S.M.A.S.H. is in its third year of promoting safe driving among teens. So far they have worked with 12 schools in the last year to promote awareness of the dangers of driving while impaired or distracted.
"One ounce of prevention is a pound of cure," Merz said.