Assemblyman Ortiz looks to save lives by lowering permissible BAC level

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, right, courtesy of the New York State Assembly.

The National Transportation Safety Board has recently issued a recommendation to states to lower the blood alcohol content that constitutes drunk driving.

Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, has introduced legislation (A.2302-a) to lower a driver’s blood alcohol concentration level from .08 percent to .05 percent when determining if the driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired.

If Ortiz’s bill becomes law, New York state would be the first in the nation to adopt the lower standard and would set an example for the rest of the country.

Since the mid-1990s, even as total highway fatalities have fallen, the proportion of deaths from accidents involving alcohol-impaired drivers has remained constant at around 30 percent of all highway fatalities; nearly 440,000 people have died in alcohol related crashes.

“If we lower the blood alcohol concentration level, we can save around 800 lives a year,” Ortiz said.

The United States trails the rest of the world in lowering the drunken driving standard. The United States has a more lenient BAC for drunk driving than 100 other countries; nearly all the European, Asian, and South American countries have adopted a standard lower than .08 percent. When Australia dropped its BAC level from .08 percent to .05 percent, provinces reported a 5-18 percent drop in highway fatalities.

Ortiz reintroduced the bill this session to ensure that lives will be saved. He said that countries such as Canada and Mexico have lowered the BAC for driving while intoxicated. These countries have seen positive results and decreases in DUI’s, deaths and crashes.

Lowering BAC is one way to help bring down the nation’s 10,000 alcohol-impaired deaths each year nationwide, determined by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Each year there are more than 173,000 injured.

The bill has seen a wave of support and Ortiz has received many calls and emails from people who have been victimized by drunk driving as well as law enforcement officers offering their support.

Since Ortiz’s first term in the Assembly, he has sponsored legislation to make roads safer. His legislation to ban cellphone use by drivers was the first in the United States. More recently, he introduced “Evan’s Law” to permit law enforcement officers to conduct field tests at an accident site to help determine whether a cell phone was in use by the driver before the accident occurred.

“We must be proactive –and not reactive– when it comes to driver and passenger safety on our roads. I will make every effort to see this legislation enacted quickly,” Ortiz said.

The bill resides in the Assembly Transportation Committee and there is no Senate sponsor.