NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Prohibition Dressed As Auto Safety?

September 27, 2000

Some years ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving lobbied for states to adopt a blood alcohol content level of 0.10 percent as the point at which a driver is considered legally drunk. And most states adopted that.

Now, MADD is pushing for adoption of a 0.08 percent BAC level as de facto evidence that a driver is drunk. That level is now the law in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

MADD officials have indicated that once the 0.08 objective is secured they might lobby for a still lower level. Ralph Hingson, MADD national vice president for public policy, has said that even at levels as low as 0.04 or 0.02, "judgment is impaired."

Observers say that MADD has evolved from crusading against drunk driving to being anti-alcohol altogether. Even Candace Lightner, who founded MADD in 1980, has said she thinks "they've become far more neo-prohibitionist over the years."

  • A 120-pound woman reaches the 0.08 limit after having had only two glasses of wine over two hours -- as does a 137-pound woman after having three beers in an hour.
  • But persons with blood alcohol levels in the 0.01 to 0.09 percent range accounted for only 22 percent of alcohol-related traffic deaths in 1998.
  • "The evidence does not conclusively establish that 0.08 percent BAC laws by themselves result in reductions in the number and severity of alcohol-related crashes," the General Accounting Office reported in 1999.
  • It added that conclusions crediting lives saved to the 0.08 percent limit were "unfounded."

MADD has started combating alcohol by pushing for higher taxes on alcoholic beverages and advocating restrictions on alcohol advertising. Critics see the campaign to progressively lower the legal BAC level as no more than a fund-raising ploy and an attempt to keep the organization functioning.

Source: John Berlau, "Are Stricter Laws on Drunk Driving Life Savers or 'Neo-Prohibitionism?'" Washington Times, September 27, 2000.


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