Editorial: Europe has a .05 blood alcohol limit for drivers. Why is CT's .08?

Handing over the car keys

Handing over the car keys

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Now let’s have a serious talk about alcohol and driving in Connecticut.

How much alcohol can be safely consumed before getting behind the steering wheel?

That wheel can be on a car, a motorboat or a plane, but the question isn’t any different. Nor is the driver. But the answer can change.

In Connecticut, the blood alcohol limit is .08 for driving a car or boat, mirroring that of most other states (it’s .04 for pilots).

Americans have a way of ignoring the laws in other nations, but consider a specific one on this holiday. If you are lucky enough to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, you need to remember that the limit is .05 before finding a way home.

It’s pretty much the same in the rest of Europe. In some parts of Asia and South America, there is zero tolerance. If you want to drink and drive, the United States has the highest threshold.

Connecticut is considering changing that in response to the spike of fatalities that resulted from wrong-way crashes in 2022, when they rose from eight to 15.

But the idea of lowering the blood alcohol limit from .08 to .05 is already facing opposition. Though it passed the Transportation Committee, it was only by a 21-15 vote, and naysayers came from both sides of the aisle.

It probably doesn’t help that only one other state (Utah), has the lower limit. But lawmakers should consider than fatal accidents in Utah dropped by about 20 percent after the change in 2020. Europe’s shift took place more than a decade ago, when some nations saw the number of alcohol-related deaths cut in half.

Resistance will surely come, as it has elsewhere in the country, from the likes of restaurants, wine makers and beer distributors. The American Beverage Institute didn’t want the .08 limit either, and recently used ads to mock Utah about its pivot.

There also is a sense of misdirection because proposed legislation comes on the heels of Connecticut legalizing recreational marijuana. Though he supports dropping the figure to .05, state Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, voted against it with the reasoning that “it is frankly ridiculous when we have such a marijuana problem going on.”

That’s right, he won’t vote for something he supports unless a different issue is addressed.

We need a more sober discussion about drunken driving.

Stronger logic came from state Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, who is the committee co-chair. She raised the persuasive point that there’s really no reason to ever drive after drinking alcohol in 2023.

“This is about people to think differently when they go out and drink. With all the public transportation options available, with the ride shares and ride services available like Ubers and Lyfts and taxis and CT Transit and other transit district bus services, and families and friends, we want people to think differently about going out. Impairment begins after the first drink,” she said.

When weighing the two sides of the debate, lawmakers are really holding a cocktail in one hand and lives in the other. There really isn’t much of an argument.