The NTSB is targeting the annual rate of 10,000 fatalities caused by drunk drivers, but reducing the blood alcohol level fails to impact the heavy drinkers who drive above the 0.15 percent level and who are responsible for over 70 percent of drunk-driving fatalities, according to American Beverage Institute numbers. "It will have a tremendous impact on the moderate social drinker and almost no impact on the hard-core drinkers," Longwell said.
The Distilled Spirits Council echoed that sentiment. "We join with other organizations, including those engaged in traffic safety, in maintaining our strong support for the strict enforcement of the .08 BAC level and continuing the fight against hardcore drunk drivers. Progress has been made in decreasing alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Reducing the BAC level will not be an effective strategy," the council said in a statement.
Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving said Tuesday it appreciates the NTSB's attention to the issue, but will keep its own advocacy focused on its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, which backs the current .08 limit, calls for high-profile law enforcement and in-car breathalyzers for offenders.
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One sector the new level would help is retail sales of alcohol, said Libby Bierman, an analyst at Sageworks, a private-company data expert firm. "It might encourage people to drink at home or pick up something and take to a friend's house," she said.
Beer, wine and liquor store profits have been on the upswing since 2009, according to the Sageworks data collected from private companies across the U.S. "This whole industry has always done well, even during the recession," Bierman said.
Overall, the private beer, wine and liquor stores never dipped into the red like many other industries during the worst of the recession. They posted a 0.87 percent net profit margin in 2009 and that climbed to 2.88 percent for 2012, according to Sageworks' numbers.
The NTSB plan was proposed Tuesday along with other enforcement measures including the use of in-vehicle drunk-detection technology and targeting of repeat offenders. States have the power to set their own blood-alcohol limits, which have all remained at .08 since 2004. The NTSB first issued the .08 recommendation in 1982. The amount of alcohol required for intoxication varies among individuals based on weight, tolerance and other factors.