Ellen Golberg, NBCDFW.com
Some call for legislators to create a "driving while ability impaired" category of drunken driving.
The American Beverage Institute is urging lawmakers to reject a proposal by Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo to create a lower category of drunken driving that is below the national threshold of 0.08.
Under Acevedo's proposal, law enforcement officers would be able to arrest anyone whose BAC falls between .05 - .07 as they would be classified as "driving while ability impaired," and not driving while intoxicated.
The American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade association that seeks to protect restaurants while waging campaigns against "modern-day prohibitionists," came out swinging a day later.
"By further lowering the legal BAC level, this proposal ignores the root cause of today’s drunk driving problem—hard core alcohol abusers," said Sarah Longwell, ABI spokeswoman. "...Lowering the legal limit instead merely criminalizes behavior that is legal in all 50 states."
The ABI added that data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that the average BAC of a drunk driver in a fatal car crash is 0.19 percent -- that’s more than double the legal limit.
The association isn't alone in their distaste for Acevedo's proposal. They quoted Mothers Against Drunk Driving founder Candy Lightner as saying that targeting social drinking, "ignores the real core of the problem....If we really want to save lives, let's go after the most dangerous drivers on the road. MADD has become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned. I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving."
In Lightner's eyes, the issue with drunk driving stems from alcohol abusers and not social drinkers.
Supporters of the proposal said they are in favor of any law that discourages people who have been drinking from getting behind the wheel.
In their closing argument, Longwell made the following claim.
"It's ridiculous to lower the current BAC limit when numerous studies show that drivers at the 0.08 level are less impaired than drivers talking on a hands-free cell phone,” said Longwell. “A 120 pound woman can reach the .08 BAC level by having two six-ounce glasses of wine over a two hour period."
The next legislative session begins Jan. 11. New York and Colorado have "driving while ability impaired" laws.