In discussing DUI law, BAC which stands for “blood alcohol concentration” is probably the term most frequently encountered. BAC is measured in terms of grams of alcohol in 100 grams of a person’s blood. A BAC of .08, which means .08 grams of alcohol in 100 grams of a person’s blood, has evolved into the benchmark in Washington and other states within the U.S. for determining whether a person is driving under the influence of alcohol. While DUI laws in the U.S. appear to become stricter with time, they are among the most lenient in the world.
It is logical to assume that in countries where drinking is not permitted such as generally observed in Islamic countries, there will be no tolerance for drinking with any BAC level. However even in countries where alcohol consumption is high, BAC levels are considerably lower than the .08 limit in the United States. Let’s take the example of Germany, France, and Ireland which are countries that immediately come to mind when one thinks of alcoholic beverages such as beer or wine. The BAC limit is generally .05 in all three countries. In Russia which alcoholism is considered a chronic problem, it is just above a BAC of .03. In the Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Norway, a BAC limit of .02 results in the possibility of being over the legal limit before one has even consumed a single beer. If one views the BAC limits established in different countries as provided in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_alcohol_content, it becomes apparent that the United States is pretty lenient when it comes to allowing for drinking and driving.
Politicians like to talk about how they support increased penalties for DUI. In Washington State for instance, DUI laws have become much stricter and our state representatives make sure that they score their political points by taking credit for our more stringent DUI laws. But from a global perspective, DUI laws in any of the American states are not really that harsh. The reality is that in the U.S., you can still have “one for the road”.
Unfortunately, lenient DUI laws in the U.S. are a disservice to its citizens not simply due to public safety concerns as MADD and SADD may be quick to point out, but also because for many of us who drink and drive, it is not an easy exercise to determine when or at what point we are legally intoxicated. The most black and white rule would incorporate a no drinking or driving standard where it is clear to everyone as to what is prohibited. In other words, if you drink, don’t drive.
In discussing the leniency of DUI laws in the U.S., I do not want to create the false impression that the nation is soft on crime. Not only is the death penalty well and alive in the U.S. (this in itself makes the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment a term of art), but according to the International Centre for Prison Studies the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Yes, we place a higher percentage of our population in prison than China, Cuba and Iran. Therefore, our government need not worry about not providing us with enough “tough love”. But when it comes to DUI laws in the U.S., there is still considerable room to drink and drive.