Good afternoon. My name is Jennifer Homendy, and I’m a Board Member with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged by Congress with investigating all civil aviation accidents in the United States and significant crashes in other modes of transportation. We issue those recommendations to federal, state, local, and other entities to improve safety and to prevent future crashes, deaths, and injuries.
Let me first say, on behalf of the NTSB, I’d like to extend our deepest condolences to the Abbas family and other families who have experienced the devastating consequences of an impaired driving crash.
I’m here today in support of two proven countermeasures that, if enacted, will reduce impaired driving crashes, save lives, and prevent injuries in Michigan: (1) lowering the legal BAC limit to .05 and (2) requiring ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders.
These two issues are on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements and are highlighted in our 2013 Reaching Zero report.
We all know that drinking and driving kills, but what most people fail to recognize is that impairment begins at the first drink. Let me repeat that: impairment begins at the very first drink. Even a small amount of alcohol can affect driving ability.
The solution is simple – drink OR drive, don’t do both – because the costs of making the wrong decision are far too great. I’m not talking about the economic cost; I’m talking about the lives that are lost and the lifelong impact that these senseless tragedies have on victims and their families.
In Michigan, 311 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes in 2017, that’s a 27.5 percent increase from 2016 levels. That’s pretty significant.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Michigan ranks among the top 20 states with the highest percentage of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities. And that’s just fatalities; thousands more have suffered life-altering injuries.
Nationwide, the numbers are even more staggering: more than 10,000 people die annually on our nation’s roads in alcohol-involved crashes; that’s 29 people every single day, or 1 every 48 minutes. Think about that, in the time we’ve held this press conference, at least 1 person died in an alcohol-related crash.
The real tragedy is that these deaths are 100% preventable.
Research shows that lowering BAC levels to .05 acts as a broad deterrent, causing people to change their behavior…to choose whether to drink or drive.
More than 100 countries have BAC levels that are .05 or lower, and they have less alcohol-impaired traffic crashes. The U.S. (with the exception of Utah) is at .08 with alcohol responsible for nearly 30 percent of all traffic-related fatalities. Germany: .05 with only 9 percent of traffic fatalities due to impaired driving.
I’m pleased that Utah was the first state to act on our recommendation to lower the legal BAC to .05 this past December. Other states are actively considering it, including California and New York. Now Michigan has the opportunity to make its roads safer for everyone.
The NTSB also strongly supports ignition interlocks for all individuals convicted of DWI offenses. According to the National Academy of Sciences, first time offenders comprise the majority of DWI convictions. But by the time they’re convicted, those so-called first offenders have driven after drinking about 80 times. Yet Michigan’s focus is repeat offenders. Intervention has to start early, on the first conviction, to decrease the likelihood of subsequent offenses, reduce crashes, and save lives.
Again, I want to thank Rep. Hammoud for introducing House Bills 4419, 4420, and 4421, and for his efforts to improve safety in Michigan.