Proposal Seeks Lower Alcohol Limit for Ohio OVI / DUI

Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board came out with a recommendation to lower the minimum blood alcohol content (BAC) level, at which a person is considered to be legally under the influence of alcohol, thereby changing the definition of a drunk driver. The agency argued that the current .08 BAC is too high and advocates for lowering it to .05 to reduce the number of accidents.

While the federal agency can make such a broad recommendation, each state will need to change its own laws and this generally takes many years. In Ohio, the current blood alcohol limit for operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) is .08, but an officer can arrest someone who displays signs of impairment regardless of blood alcohol content. For example, drugged driving – where the driver is under the influence of illegal or prescription drugs – has become more common. For drivers under the age of 21, the BAC limit is .02.

OVI arrests in the state have increased over the last three years (22,090 in 2010, 23,747 in 2011 and 24,520 in 2012), according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. The increase shows that law enforcement agencies are already targeting impaired drivers across the state.

Anne Ralston, a spokesperson for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said that the federal recommendation remains just that for now and no legislation is pending in Ohio to make a change to the alcohol limit.

Opposition to the Change

The lower limit worries many who would refrain from having drinks with friends or meals. Some argue that an individual is not impaired if under the current limit. However, a NTSB report found that even at .05 drivers start to struggle with depth perception as well as other visual functions.

While it is hard to predict exact blood alcohol levels, the Associated Press predicts that it would only take one drink for a 120-pound woman to reach the lower limit. For a man weighting around 160 pounds it would take two drinks. These predictions vary based on food consumption and time, but show that a lower limit may be akin to a zero tolerance law.

Many in the state assert that a more effective way of addressing the issue it to require ignition interlocks for those convicted of an OVI.

Penalties for an OVI/DUI conviction

Ohio has an implied content law that requires a driver to take a chemical blood alcohol test at the request of a police officer if there is probable cause to arrest for an OVI offense. An officer must have a reasonable suspicion of impairment, but this can be a rather low standard. At a traffic stop, an officer may smell alcohol on a driver’s breath and this could be enough to request a test. The penalties are often greater for refusing to take a test.

A conviction for OVI/DUI often includes driver’s license suspension, an ignition interlock device, mandatory alcohol assessment and treatment, fines, court fees and jail time. A BAC limit at or over .17 will result in enhanced penalties. An OVI/DUI charge or conviction can also affect your employment prospects. If charged with an impaired driving offense, consult an Ohio criminal defense attorney to learn more about your rights.