"At 0.05 you are already impaired. The danger of being on the road is real," said Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg.
State Representative Bill Lippert thinks the current standard to determine if someone is drunk behind the wheel is too lax. The legislative session won't resume until January, but he already has staff working on a proposal to lower the legal limit for blood alcohol content from 0.08 to 0.05.
"I am under no illusion that this will sweep through the Statehouse in January," Lippert said.
Lippert first proposed the change in 2000 and again in 2008.
Last year, alcohol factored in 21 of Vermont's 77 roadway fatalities. Lippert says reducing the limit will reduce fatalities. If he can gain support, he says a massive information campaign would need to be given several years before the limit could be implemented.
Leunig's Bistro owner Bob Conlon says alcohol accounts for 15 percent of his business and argues the figure is likely larger for cheaper restaurants. He says they're careful not to overserve and says lowering the legal limit further will only drain eateries.
"You see someone 0.08-- perhaps they're impaired; they aren't slurring, they aren't drunk by any means-- 0.05 you're going to be basically sober," Conlon said.
"People say, 'My goodness, I could be pulled over for DUI.' Well, I say if you're on the road and impaired you should be responsible," Lippert said.
The number of drinks it takes to reach 0.05 or 0.08 blood alcohol content varies dramatically, but generally corresponds to body weight. Anyone under 150 lbs. can eclipse 0.05 by consuming two standard drinks in an hour. Those over 200 lbs. are likely to pass the mark with their fourth beverage.
The National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended that all states adopt a 0.05 limit. But Ted Minall, the program chief of the Governor's Highway Safety Program, says Vermont will crunch its own numbers.
"Everything we do is based on data. Before we do anything or consider anything we really have to look at the data to determine the exact effect it will have on the people of Vermont," Minall said.
A team of researchers is expected to be in place in a few weeks. Lawmakers are expected begin considering the proposal immediately upon their January return to Montpelier. If the measure passes, Vermont will become the first state to adopt an even tougher limit.
At this time, the federal government is not tying funding to reducing the limit.
Lippert says he'll also be asking his legislative colleagues to consider making seatbelt violations a primary offense and requiring hands-free cellphone use by drivers.
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