Lower drunken driving limits might impact women most

by: Monique Ming Laven Updated:

SEATTLE - Federal safety officials want to lower the drunken driving limits to save lives.  But some say if it goes through, it will have a larger affect on women. 

That’s because women tend to be lighter and metabolize alcohol at a different rate than men.  In other words, women feel the effects of alcohol more quickly. 

And, if these new recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board get adopted by Washington state, the odds of one drink putting you over the limit increase dramatically.

A special board of the NTSB took a look at drunken driving statistics and found incidents are far too high and far too deadly. 

They point to Europe, which lowered their BAC limit to .05 perecnt and cut DUI-related deaths in half in 10 years.  If the U.S. got similar results, that would be saving about 5,000 lives a year. 

But when KIRO 7 Eyewitness News hit happy hour Tuesday evening, a lot of skeptics were found.

Steve Johnson and Audra Fabini had one cocktail each with dinner at Cyclops.  They live downtown, so they often walk or bus to wherever they drink anyway.

They felt like the proposed .05 perecent limit was a little arbitrary and would like to see tests done on the difference in motor skills and reaction time between a driver at .08 percent and a driver at .05 percent.

Both Steve and Audra are about 5-foot-10, but Audra is quite thin, about 115 pounds.  Steve is about 35 pounds heavier. 

When we gave Audra the Breathalyzer test 15 minutes after she finished her drink, she blew .05 percent; Steve blew a .03 perecent.

“That was a little higher than I was expecting,” Audra said. “I feel fine, I don’t feel like I’m in an altered state.”

 No one we spoke with said they felt confident they would know when they had reached .05 percent, regardless of their sex, height, weight or age. 

Brian Covey, who was at a farewell party for a co-worker, spoke with us while he said he had a “pretty good buzz.”  He is 5-foot-10 and 230 pounds. 

He had only two drinks within about an hour and 15 minutes, but he was drinking on an empty stomach.  He also blew .05 percent.

“That’s a surprising result,” he said. “That’s a decent argument for dropping the limit because I wouldn’t drive right now, and apparently I’m at the level they want to set it to.”

Bartender Dylan Randolph said he thinks lowering the limit is a good idea, but limited public transportation makes it unlikely that it can be well-executed. 0

He also worries about his own liability.  He says even after years of mixing drinks it would be tough to recognize when someone is at .05 percent and should be cut off. “It may be a fine line between .05 and .08. It’s really difficult to tell.  I don’t know I could do it, honestly.”

If the .05 percent limit had been administered last year, an additional 2,700 drivers who faced breath or blood alcohol tests could have been cited. 

It’s up to each state whether to adopt the new recommendations.