“This is not to tell individuals they don’t have a right to drink alcohol.”
Rep. Mike Clampitt (R-Swain Co.) told reporters Thursday that House Bill 148 (Driving/Reduce Legal BAC Level) would lower the legal limit for driving from a blood alcohol content of .08 to .05 and was intended to prevent people from thinking they were safe to drive after a couple of drinks.
“It [alcohol] is a depressant resulting in the diminished mental state. It is visually supported by television ads and magazines and billboards.”
Clampitt said when Utah took the lead in lowering its impaired driving legal limit to .05, traffic deaths decreased nearly 20%.
“In North Carolina, the problem of impaired driving increased 18% from 2019 to 2020 and is getting worse. We are at an epidemic,” warned Clampitt.
He noted that ABC sales last year jumped over ten percent with more than $200 million in state alcohol sales.
Clampitt also pointed to a recent rear-end collision involving an impaired driver and House Speaker Tim Moore to help make his point.
State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey said he supports efforts to curb driving under the influence, as rising cases put pressure on the state’s automobile insurance rates.
Also backing the lower threshold for impaired driving was Ollie Jeffers with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“There is no reason not to vote for it. Unless you think that it’s going to affect your family members or somebody that you know,” said Jeffers. “Then I say that you’ve been selfish because you’ve got to think about others.”
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has also taken an interest in House Bill 148.
“In North Carolina alone, alcohol impaired driving crashes killed over 3,800 people between 2011 and 2020,” said Leah Walton, an NTSB safety advocate.
“The .05 law works as a general deterrent. It helps modify the behavior of all drivers by encouraging them to separate drinking from driving.”
The NTSB has been recommending a .05 BAC law since 2013.
Only Utah has adopted the change in the past decade.
“This is about saving lives.”
Rep. Clampitt brushed back questions about the push for increasing penalties for impaired driving during a session in which conservative leadership has loosened the states gun laws and refused to take up gun control measures. The Child Fatality Task Force reported last month that child deaths by firearms in North Carolina increased dramatically in 2020 and 2021.
“I don’t want to politicize this event that we’re talking about between the Democrats and their gun control legislation or requests,” said Clampitt, a member of the Freedom Caucus. “This is about saving lives.”
A package of bills
Clampitt has introduced four other bills to work in concert with lowering the blood alcohol threshold, including:
- H85 – Revise Use of Alcohol Concentration Result
- H147 – Impaired driving law restrictions, revisions and fee structure
- H211 – DWI sentencing and mitigating factors, and
- H212 – Driver’s license restoration to go by treatment court.
It’s unclear if any of the measures has the support to pass both chambers in this fast-moving session.