Could North Carolina become the second state to lower the legal alcohol limit for drivers?

A group of legislators want North Carolina to become the second state in the country to lower the legal alcohol limit for driving.

A bill filed by Rep. Mike Clampitt, a Bryson City Republican, would lower the legal blood alcohol concentration limit for driving from .08% to .05%.

“This is not to tell individuals they don’t have a right to drink alcohol,” Clampitt said at a press conference on Thursday. “But if they do, then they do not have a right to operate a vehicle. It’s a danger to the lives of others on the roads and highways and waterways.”

The bill’s prospects in the legislature are uncertain. Clampitt said he’d had breakfast with a bipartisan group of lawmakers who expressed interest in the bill, but as of Thursday most of the bill’s sponsors were members of the far-right Freedom Caucus.

House Speaker Tim Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican, said he hadn’t read the bill closely.

“I want to make sure that the science would support something like that,” he told reporters on Thursday.

At the press conference, Clampitt was joined by law enforcement and anti-drunk driving advocates who spoke in favor of the bill, saying it would save lives.

“We can stop impaired driving,” Ollie Jeffers, a volunteer with Mothers Against Drunk Driving said. “This is something that’s 100% preventable — not many things in life are.”

Every state in the country has a legal limit of .08% except for Utah, which became the first state to lower the limit in 2017 when they passed a bill changing the limit to .05%.

A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found a nearly 20% reduction in car crashes in Utah between 2016 and 2019 and no decrease in alcohol sales or tourism revenue.

In 2020, 30% of North Carolina’s highway fatalities involved a driver under the influence of alcohol, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Leah Watson, a representative from the NTSB, said her board has been pushing for laws like these across the country for the last decade.

She referenced a 2017 academic study that estimated having .05% BAC laws in all states would result in an 11% decline in deaths from alcohol-related crashes, saving 1,700 lives annually.

“The benefits of these sensible safety minded limits are well documented,” Watson said. “The .05 law works as a general deterrence. It helps modify the behavior of all drivers by encouraging them to separate drinking from driving.”