Most drivers have some understanding of the term “BAC” and how it relates to DWI law. BAC stands for blood alcohol content or blood alcohol concentration and it is a way to measure the amount of alcohol an individual has in their system. Lawmakers find that setting a legal limit to the amount of alcohol a driver can consume is a reliable way of determining impairment. Rather than have the burden of proving physical impairment in all DWI cases, a driver can be charged with per se DWI if a sobriety test shows that they has a BAC over the legal limit.
In the U.S., adults over 21 have a legal BAC limit of .08. But .08 was not always the limit. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2000, the Department of Transportation's Appropriation Act was signed into law. It stated that by 2004 all states should adopt a .08 minimum BAC or they would lose federal highway construction funds. Before this act was passed, only 19 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico used .08 as a minimum for their per se DWI laws. Originally the legal limit for BAC in the country was .15. Now, .15 is generally considered to be an extremely high BAC and often will result in additional penalties. For example, drivers in New Hampshire with a BAC of .16 or more will be charged with aggravated DWI subject to harsher sentencing.
A BAC limit is allegedly based on what will make the roads safest. The higher a driver's BAC, the more alcohol they will have had to consume and, therefore, the more impaired their ability to drive will be. The NHTSA found that, in 2010, 35% of all traffic accident related fatalities in New Hampshire involved a driver with a BAC of .08 or more and only 7% of fatalities involved a driver with a BAC of .01 to .07. Additionally, 10% of fatalities were the result of drivers with a BAC between .08 and .14 and 25% were the result of drivers with a BAC of .15 or more. The results on a national level were very similar with BACs over .08 resulting in 31% of fatal accidents.
The .08 BAC limit is a point of contention for many groups. Some feel that this level is unfair and discourages social drinking. They believe that the lower limit was established in order to increase the number of arrests and make it easier to get DWI convictions. Groups like the National Motorist Association feel that anti-drunk driving laws have now become anti-drinking laws and have made it almost impossible to legally consume alcohol and operate a vehicle in the same day.
Regardless of how you feel about the .08 BAC limit, it is not likely to be increased in the future. In fact, the NHTSA have actually proposed reducing the limit even further to .05. The good news is that even if you are arrested for DWI in New Hampshire with a BAC over the legal limit, you still have defense options. Contact a defense attorney right away to find out more.