(CN) — New research released Sunday finds that drivers with blood alcohol concentrations below the legal limit still accounted for 15% of all alcohol-involved crash deaths in the U.S., suggesting that the current limit still allows for impaired driving.
A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine discovered that 55% of such deaths were made up of people other than the drinking driver. The crashes are also more likely to have youth fatalities compared to crashes where the driver’s BAC was above the legal limit.
“Our study challenges the popular misconception that alcohol-involved crashes primarily affect drinking drivers, or that BACs below the legal limit don’t matter,” said lead investigator Dr. Timothy Naimi of Boston Medical Center.
The research team examined sixteen years of national vehicle crash data and discovered that from 2000 to 2015, 37% of more than 600,000 deaths involved a drunk driver. Of those cases, 15% involved drinking drivers who tested below the legal alcohol limit.
The study also found that those areas with stricter BAC limits had a 9% decrease in crashes that involved alcohol below the legal limit. Utah was the first state to lower the legal BAC limit to 0.05% in 2018, the limit recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.
“Policies restricting impaired driving increase freedom from worry of injury or death for the majority of people on public roadways who are not drinking,” said lead author Marlene Lira of Boston Medical Center.
The study recommends policy approaches that can help reduce deaths, including limited alcohol availabilty at grocery stores and increased alcohol taxes.
“Lower alcohol crashes have been underestimated as a public health problem. Our research suggests that stringent alcohol policies reduce the likelihood of fatal accidents involving drivers with all levels of alcohol blood concentration,” Naimi said.