Why is the Nationwide Drunk Driving BAC Limit .08?


Some may wonder where the .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit comes from in the U.S. In fact, a lot of research has gone into deciding this particular level. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the federal organization that has carefully laid out the standards and law for drunken driving.

Why .08?

A person is substantially impaired with a .08 BAC level. Your cognitive skills and judgment are not normal, and it is highly dangerous to get behind the wheel in this state. Simple tasks such as steering, your speed level, concentration, braking and more go out the window when you’re impaired, and you heavily increase risking your life.

NHTSA decided on .08 for a reason. Your risk of crashing increases at each BAC level. But, in NHTSA’s studies, the risk of a crash rises significantly once someone reaches .08.

Plus, once states started implementing the .08 BAC law, they saw a reduction in alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

History of Drunk Driving Law and the .08 BAC Legal Limit

In 1998, President Clinton wanted to set new standards to “prevent the many tragic and unnecessary alcohol-related deaths and injuries that occur on the Nation’s roads.” At the time, there was no national BAC limit. During his speech, President Clinton announced it is illegal for anyone to operate a motor vehicle at .08 or higher.

Before the president’s speech, however, NHTSA had already published multiple studies on .08 being the legal limit.

Utah was the first state to implement .08 as the legal limit in 1983. All U.S. states have a .08 per se law except Utah. Now, Utah is set to change its BAC limit to .05 instead of .08.

In most European countries, the standard BAC limit is .05 or lower, although England’s limit is also .08.

One other measure that prevents drunk driving are Ignition Interlocks. 30 states have an all-offender Ignition Interlock law, which lowers recidivism rates substantially. They are also a tool that helps people continue with their everyday routine while driving safely again.

Get Back on the Road with Smart Start

Do you need to use an Ignition Interlock Device? Smart Start can get you back on the road again in no time with a reliable Interlock and 24/7/365 customer service. We’ll be able to provide a quote, any current discounts in your area and set up your appointment. Call our team today at (800) 831-3299 or fill out our online form.