Bill Lowering Blood Alcohol Level For Drivers Should Have Passed - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Rick Collins

Rick Collins is with the Hawaii Public Health Institute and is project director of the Hawaii Alcohol Policy Alliance.

Hawaii lawmakers ignored a clear public message to improve the safety of our roadways.

The chaos of the 2023 legislative session has received much attention. One of the session’s many casualties was the bill to lower the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level for alcohol-impaired driving from 0.08% to 0.05%.

For most developed countries, a BAC of 0.05% is the norm. For good reason: it works. It saves lives by incentivizing people to make better choices about their drinking behavior.

As reported in the media, Senate Bill 160 “sailed through the Senate” — only to be killed in the House. The members of our diverse coalition, who were hoping to bring about advances in alcohol policy, are deeply disappointed.

We have put our trust in Rep. David Tarnas, who chose not to hear SB 160 this year, a necessary hearing to move the bill to the finish line. He has pledged to work with advocates and to give the bill more consideration next year.

As we enter the second year of the biennium, our lawmakers can quickly pass a measure proven to save lives. As Cynthia Okazaki warned in a recent op-ed, “There is a price to procrastination.”
In this case, that price is human lives.

Lawmakers say they need more information. From our perspective, they have data. We have made all the data available, including the research from noted authorities like the National Transportation Safety Board and various information collected from other countries on the positive impact achieved by lowering the BAC to 0.05%. The science is clear: Lowering the BAC is the most effective tool to combat impaired driving.

Rep. David Tarnas wants more data regarding a BAC bill. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The community showed support for lowering the BAC to 0.05% throughout the session. Public polling showed over 60% of Hawaii voters support lowering the BAC to 0.05%. Sign-waving events held across the islands drew hundreds of residents and organizations eager to show support for the measure. There was an 8-to-1 ratio of public testimony in support of SB 160’s passage compared to those in opposition.

Numerous residents authored supportive editorials, and news outlets covered timely stories of those impacted by alcohol-impaired driving. The public sent a clear message to lawmakers: We expect you to improve the safety of our roadways, and a 0.05 BAC is a reasonable limit to set. Sadly, their message ultimately fell on deaf ears.

Safe Transportation

This bill separates drinking from driving to protect the health and safety of our children, families, and all across our islands.

The bill does not prohibit drinking. It encourages people who plan to drink to arrange safe transportation.

It was hard to read about lawmakers congratulating themselves at the close of this session for having made roads safer. They pointed to the passage of bill House Bill 600, which could allocate up to $20 million over two years to the state Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School Program.

Make no mistake: All steps to improve road safety and to prevent the tragic loss of life of children walking to school are helpful. But when alcohol impairment contributes to one out of every three deaths on our roadways, it’s an apparent failure of our legislature to miss an opportunity to save more lives through the passage of the 0.05% BAC bill. SB 160 (the bill to lower BAC) would have been a complementary step toward realizing “Vision Zero” — no fatalities on our roadways.

We owe safer roads to all the lives lost or damaged by alcohol-impaired driving. Data from the Department of Transportation shows that road fatalities are rising, and passing this policy is an easy opportunity for our elected officials to prove to voters that their lives matter.

The bill does not prohibit drinking.

During the interim, we will offer lawmakers several educational and experiential opportunities to understand the issue better. Law enforcement has invited lawmakers to their impaired driving labs, an interactive simulation demonstrating an individual’s degree of impairment across various BAC levels.

Currently, Rep. Tarnas and Rep. Greggor Ilagan have pledged to participate. There will also be opportunities for our lawmakers to meet with national experts to understand better the positive impact of moving to 0.05%.

We pledge to search and share additional research. Our hope is that lawmakers will seize these opportunities and remain true to their pledge.

Our lawmakers can save their community members’ lives by lowering the BAC in 2024. We will continue to fight for safer roads for everyone.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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About the Author

Rick Collins

Rick Collins is with the Hawaii Public Health Institute and is project director of the Hawaii Alcohol Policy Alliance.

Latest Comments (0)

Glad there is some (tiny) inertia left in the "ruling" process here, such that not every single further impingement on human activity that the elected climb all over each other year after year to impose on the citizens of this state - always of course under the same argument that "it’s for the pubic’s own good" - makes it through."This new restriction will____ fill in the blank with vague good, unencumbered by the actual data and cost / benefit analysis, etc.____." - this is the general formula the elected use here.And many just go along with it.When government here doesn’t have to bother with the representative process - they just do what they want - regardless of impact on citizens. For example, "No Right Turn on Red" sign mysteriously appears on a road you’ve driven for 30 years, to and from work. You find out about it because the day it goes up is the day you’re in a traffic jam there that shouldn’t be.Though I’ve lived here and watched this process for 50 years now, I still hold out hope that one day the people will wake up demand the rightful role reversal - from those being ruled over, to those being served.

KalihiUka · 6 months ago

According 2000-2015 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System, only about 2.7% of fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States involve a driver with a blood alcohol concentration between 0.05% and 0.08%. The Pareto principle, a.k.a. "the 80/20 rule," which is central to efficient planning in all areas of engineering, economics, occupational health and safety, and other disciplines, informs us unequivocally that a 2.7% effect is far, far too small to be chased: the cost of doing so would far outweigh the benefit, and the resources this effort would consume would be far more efficiently spent on reducing traffic fatalities through other means.

Chiquita · 6 months ago

The law should be no drinking and driving. Some people have a very low tolerance for alcohol. When arrested, they should be held for 48 hours without bail. That should be a deterrent to most drivers thinking about having a couple of drinks.

Koaniani · 6 months ago

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