Will Michigan Adopt a 0.05% BAC Limit?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has campaigned since 2013 for the legal level of blood alcohol (BAC) for drivers to be reduced from 0.08% to 0.05%, but until last year nothing seemed to be shifting on it. Then the law changed in Utah. Will it come to Michigan in due course? There is reason to believe that one factor that might sway each state to propose and legislate a lower BAC limit is that it would undoubtedly swell the state’s coffers in terms of more fines. Of course, that’s not the NTSB’s argument. It’s all about reducing the nation’s serious accident and fatality rate. According to the NTSB in their original justification for lowering the limit, a 0.05% level is when drivers’ inability to drive safely really begins to kick in. The claim is that over that limit, the chance of a driver crashing becomes significantly more likely.

Blood alcohol limits trending downwards

The BAC level has stayed at 0.08% for some time now, but the trend is definitely on the downward slope. Not so long ago, in the late 70s to be more precise, the legal limit was 0.15%.The limit then changed to 0.10% and then 0.08%. In fact, Michigan was the last state in the country to bring its BAC limits in line with other states. That was in 2005. Theoretically, states can make up their own mind about BAC limits and there is nothing stopping a state increasing the BAC limit, just as there is nothing to stop a state from reducing it, as Utah has done. However, one inducement which probably led to the uniform situation that has prevailed in the last 13 years or so is that the federal government tied the implementation of a 0.08% BAC legal limit to the provision of federal funding for state highways. Those states that refused to drop their BAC limits might have lost out on road funding.

Is a lower BAC limit more difficult to prove?

Defense lawyers seem to be divided on the subject of lowering blood alcohol limits. Some lawyers have pointed out that it will be harder to prove who is an offender. Someone who has had two standard drinks could easily reach the 0.05% limit, but at that concentration how can it be proved by law enforcers? Portable breathalyzers have been shown to be notoriously unreliable and it has been easy for OWI (in Michigan, this is the equivalent of the DUI / DWI of other states) defense attorneys to defend their clients when evidence from these devices has been used. The argument is that few drivers who have a couple of standard drinks will be likely to be drunk enough to be noticeable, whatever the NTSB is suggesting. Field sobriety tests, which are also notoriously unreliable for detecting drivers’ impairment, are likely to be even more unreliable if the lower limit is introduced.

There has even been some suggestion by some lawyers that drivers may even increase their alcohol consumption if the BAC limit is lowered, in a form of ‘reverse psychology.’

The general consensus is that as the trend over the last thirty years has been downwards with a shift every decade or so, that there will be an inevitable move in Michigan eventually, as it will in other states, to reduce the BAC limit. There are several organizations, like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), that exert a powerful influence on society and lawmakers.

Most defense attorneys recommend that drivers simply do not drink at all before driving. It is the safest strategy for the driver and anyone else on the road. In fact, in Michigan, having a BAC limit of below 0.08% is no certain defense against an OWI charge, as a driver can still be regarded as ‘being impaired’ regardless of their tested blood alcohol concentration.

An OWI conviction in Michigan is a serious business. It is a criminal conviction and can lead to time in prison and a stiff fine, the magnitude of which depending on whether it is a first, second or further offense. There are many reasons why a charge of OWI is unjustified, or the penalties proposed are unjustified. You are entitled to be regarded as innocent until it has been proven beyond doubt that you were guilty of OWI at the time of arrest. Contact a criminal defense attorney at Abood Law in either Birmingham or East Lansing, Michigan, if arrested for OWI.