State considers tightening DUI law with lower blood alcohol content limit

The state is looking into tightening drunk driving laws.

It’s supposed to create a shift in the way people drink when they’re spending a night out.

Right now, the legal limit is 0.08, but an effort is underway to lower that threshold to 0.05. It’s a new standard the National Transportation Safety Board is pushing for in all states.

Sen. Josh Green is behind this plan once again (Senate Bill 18) and, speaking as a doctor, he says lowering the blood alcohol content will make a big difference in protecting people on the road.

He says as many as a third of vehicle crashes and fatalities are due to drunk driving.

“At 0.05, you’re 50 percent less likely to cause an accident, less likely to hurt yourself, to kill an innocent person on the road,” Green said. “Our National Transportation Safety Board recommends 0.05. All of Europe is doing 0.05. They have many fewer accidents.”

While Green does not recommend drinking and driving at all, he says one drink for most people would still be legally safe to drive.

“My goal is for people to have that cultural change and know you should never drink and drive, or certainly never have more than one drink and drive,” he said. “That’s the change that has to happen.”

We reached out to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but the Hawaii chapter could not give us a comment because MADD does not have a position or policy to reduce the blood alcohol content at this time.

So we checked with a defense attorney who says this new cutoff could cause a backlog in court.

“It invites a lot of litigation from the defense bar if it passes,” said attorney David Fanelli. “That litigation will tie up some of the appeal courts, puts certain cases on hold and definitely, the courts will be flooded with extra cases of people who are over 0.05 but under 0.08.”

Records show that the state judiciary handled more than 13,000 DUI cases between 2015 to 2016.

“I think we should focus on people who are highly intoxicated,” Fanelli said. “The Legislature in the past has repealed laws for high intoxication, from what I can tell, just due to to these reasons: court congestion.”

Green pushed for this proposal last Legislative session, but it did not pass. He’s hoping with the backing of the NTSB, this time around will be different.

The Honolulu Police Department said it “has not taken a position on the bill at this time. However, the HPD is always looking for ways to make Oahu roads safer for all users.”

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