Is U.S. the Easiest on Drunken Drivers?

ByABC News
December 18, 2002, 3:22 PM

Dec. 19 -- After a beer or two, you still might be legally cruising down U.S. Route 66. But in countries from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan, you'd be driving drunk.

As the Bush administration launches a new crackdown on the problem of driving while intoxicated, a new study reports the United States has one of the more lenient definitions of drunken driving in the world.

"The U.S. is, in fact, one of the countries that has the highest [blood-alcohol limits for drivers] currently," says Marcus Grant, president of the International Center on Alcohol Policy., which conducted the study of different blood-alcohol standards around the world.

The threshold for drunken driving varies in America from state to state half have blood-alcohol limits of .10 percent, and half have stricter limits of .08 percent. People absorb alcohol differently, but a 200-pound male might have as many as six drinks over two hours and still be below the .10 limit.

Tougher in Thailand? Turkey?

That compares with .05 percent in most of Europe as well as countries such as Thailand and Turkey; .03 percent in Moldova and Turkmenistan; and .02 percent in Norway and Sweden. Eight countries do not allow any trace of alcohol in the blood, the researchers found.

The legal definition of drunken driving is only one component in a country's efforts to combat the problem, of course. Many nations might have a much stricter drunken driving standard than America, but enforcement and punishment of offenders can vary tremendously from country to country.

"Unless [drunken driving laws] are enforced and people understand them they're really not going to make any difference," Grant emphasizes. And because different countries calculate the number of drunken driving fatalities differently, it is hard to compare the effects of their various approaches.

Pushing for .08 Across the Country

Nevertheless, the different drunken driving definitions highlight the question of how best to combat the problem.

Wendy Hamilton, the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, says the blood-alcohol limits study shows the United States should be doing more.