Currently, under Pennsylvania Criminal Law, it is illegal for you to drive with a blood alcohol content (or “BAC”) of 0.08% or higher. That means that 0.08% of your blood is made up of alcohol. If you are pulled over while driving, and your BAC is above 0.08%, you will be charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI). This has been the legal limit in all 50 State since 2004.
But, now, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), wants to lower the legal limit to 0.05%. The NTSB is a Federal Agency, so this request applies nationwide. Thankfully, for now, Pennsylvania is showing little to no interest in lowering the BAC. Even if the Federal Government tried to force the change, it would likely take a long time.
The last time the Federal Government got involved in State DUI laws was in the 1980’s. At that time the legal BAC limit was 0.1%. As long as you were driving with a BAC under 0.1%, you were unlikely to be charged with a DUI. The NTSB stepped in and started recommending that States lower the legal limit to 0.08%. At first, States, like Pennsylvania, resisted. However, the Federal Government used its funding power to force States to make the change. It took 20 years, but the change did take effect.
From a Criminal Defense perspective, lowering the legal BAC limit presents some problems. Primarily, it almost strips you of your ability to enjoy a drink while away from home. One or two drinks and you will be over the legal limit. With the legal limit currently at 0.08%, you will likely be aware of your level of intoxication and be able to make the decision not to drive after drinking. However, with a limit of 0.05%, most people won’t be able to tell, so they will have to choose not to drink out of fear of a DUI.
There are a lot of arguments in favor of and against lowering the legal BAC limit. On the one hand, cutting down on drinking and driving will help to eliminate accidents and deaths. On the other hand, most DUI accidents occur with much higher BAC’s and 0.05% is not proven to affect your ability to drive.
At the end of the day, it is something to keep in mind. It does not look like Pennsylvania will be changing the law any time soon. If it does, we will let you know.
For more information on this topic, see the Article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.