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Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits: Adult Operators of Noncommercial Motor Vehicles

Laws addressing blood alcohol concentration limits applicable to drivers of noncommercial automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles who have reached the legal drinking age of 21 years.



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Expander Policy Description

(Period Covered: 1/1/1998 through 1/1/2013)

This policy topic covers laws addressing blood alcohol concentration limits applicable to drivers of noncommercial automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles who have reached the legal drinking age of 21 years.  

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is a measure of the amount of alcohol in a person's bloodstream. BAC is commonly expressed in percentage terms. For instance, having a BAC of 0.08 percent means that a person has eight parts alcohol per 10,000 parts blood in the body. State laws generally specify BAC levels in terms of grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood (often abbreviated as grams per deciliter, or g/dL). BAC levels can be detected by breath, blood, or urine tests. The laws of each jurisdiction specify the preferred or required types of tests used for measurement.

BAC statutes establish criteria for determining when an operator of a vehicle is violating the law. This section provides information on State and Federal BAC laws that apply to drivers of noncommercial automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles who have reached the legal drinking age (21 years).

All jurisdictions have enacted per se BAC laws for adults operating noncommercial motor vehicles. A per se BAC statute establishes a BAC limit for a violation. If the operator has a BAC level at or above the per se limit, a violation has occurred without regard to other evidence of intoxication or sobriety. In other words, exceeding the BAC limit established in a per se statute is itself a violation. By limiting the use of evidence by defendants, per se laws make conviction more likely. [1].

In the past, some States without a per se law established other standards for using BAC levels as evidence of being under the influence of alcohol. In these jurisdictions, the weight given to the BAC evidence varied. Some laws provided that a BAC at or above a particular level created a presumption of being under the influence of alcohol. Other laws provided that such evidence was prima facie evidence of being under the influence, or was admissible in making this determination. These evidentiary standards were even weaker than a presumption. Defendants in jurisdictions without a per se standard could provide evidence that, in spite of the BAC level, they were not under the influence and therefore not in violation. This differentiates other statutes from per se statutes, which provide that exceeding the BAC limit is itself a violation and only the validity of the BAC measurement is at issue.

For historical data, APIS distinguishes between per se and non-per se jurisdictions but does not distinguish the evidentiary weight of BAC evidence in jurisdictions without a per se standard.

[1] Cowan, J. and Joffie, S. "Proof and disproof of alcohol-induced driving impairment through blood alcohol testing," 4 Am. Jur. POF 3d 229 (July 2002)

Expander Explanatory Notes and Limitations for Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits: Adult Operators of Noncommercial Motor Vehicles

Explanatory Notes and Limitations Specifically Applicable to Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits: Adult Operators of Noncommercial Motor Vehicles 

  1. This review examines only the specific BAC laws for drivers of noncommercial motor vehicles in each State and the District of Columbia and the specific Federal legislation cited. 
     
  2. This review does not address the following issues related to BAC limit laws:
     
    • Penalties for violations of BAC laws.
    • State and Federal laws related to enforcement of BAC laws.
    • Provisions covering enhanced sanctions for violators whose BAC exceeds a specified level that is higher than the legal limit (e.g., BAC > 0.20 g/dL).
    • Provisions related to repeat offenders.
    • Provisions that create a rebuttable presumption of impairment or other evidentiary standards at lower levels of BAC than the per se limits.
    • BAC limits that apply to operators of commercial motor vehicles.
    • Laws that may pertain to BAC limits for those who operate nonmotorized bicycles.
    • Separate laws for Indian Reservations. Approximately 200 tribes across the Nation have jurisdiction and responsibility for laws affecting their reservations. Many have passed their own BAC laws.
    • BAC limits applicable specifically to persons who have not yet attained the legal drinking age (21 years of age). See related policy topic BAC: Youth.
       

Explanatory Notes and Limitations Applicable to All APIS Policy Topics

  1. State law may permit local jurisdictions to impose requirements in addition to those mandated by State law. Alternatively, State law may prohibit local legislation on this topic, thereby preempting local powers. APIS does not document policies established by local governments.
     
  2. In addition to statutes and regulations, judicial decisions (case law) also may affect alcohol-related policies. APIS does not review case law except to determine whether judicial decisions have invalidated statutes or regulations that would otherwise affect the data presented in the comparison tables.
     
  3. APIS reviews published administrative regulations. However, administrative decisions or directives that are not included in a State's published regulatory codes may have an impact on implementation. This possibility has not been addressed by the APIS research.
     
  4. Statutes and regulations cited in tables on this policy topic may have been amended or repealed after the specific date or time period specified by the site user's search criteria.
     
  5. A comprehensive understanding of the data presented in the comparison tables for this policy topic requires examination of the applicable Row Notes and Jurisdiction Notes, which can be accessed from the body of the table via links in the Jurisdiction column.

Expander Federal Law for Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits: Adult Operators of Noncommercial Motor Vehicles

 (Policies in effect on: 1/1/2013)

BAC limits on Federal properties vary according to the type of lands involved, the Federal agency responsible for their regulation, and the geographic and jurisdictional relationships of any specific Federal land to contiguous privately owned land or land under the jurisdiction of other governmental entities.

For Federal lands under the administration of the National Park Service, a 0.08 per se BAC limit has been operative since September 5, 2003.  The applicable regulation applies to drivers who operate a vehicle on roadways or in parking areas within all park areas open to public traffic and that are under the legislative jurisdiction of the United States [36 C.F.R. § 4.23]. It also provides that "if State law that applies to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol establishes more restrictive limits of alcohol concentration in the operator's blood or breath, those limits supersede the limits specified in this paragraph."

A 0.08% blood alcohol concentration standard is the law on military installations, which are administered by the Department of Defense [32 C.F.R. § 634.34]. Operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.10% or more is also a violation under the Uniform Code of Military Justice [10 U.S.C. § 911].
 
Other types of Federal properties administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture are not amenable to a national BAC limit different from those established by the laws of the states in which the land is located. For example, some Federal properties are interspersed among State and privately owned tracts lacking clearly defined boundaries. For these lands, BAC legal limits vary.
 
Indian tribes are domestic dependent sovereigns that have the right of self-government. As such, approximately 200 tribes across the nation have enacted their own BAC limit laws.
 
In 1998, the Administration called for widespread adoption of 0.08 BAC levels across the country and on Federal property[1]. Congress passed two laws to spur such action. In 1998, Congress created incentive grant programs for States that moved toward adoption and enforcement of stricter BAC laws. Then, in 2000, Federal legislation was adopted that required each State to pass a per se 0.08 BAC law by 2004 or lose a portion of Federal highway funds. See [23 U.S.C. § 163].
 
Excerpts from these laws appear below.
 
 
FEDERAL CITATIONS AND RELEVANT TEXT EXCERPTS
 
Code of Federal Regulations
Title 36 - Parks, Forests, and Public Property
CHAPTER I - NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
PART 4 - VEHICLES AND TRAFFIC SAFETY
§ 4.23. Operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs
 
(a) Operating or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle is prohibited while:
 
(1) Under the influence of alcohol, or a drug, or drugs, or any combination thereof, to a degree that renders the operator incapable of safe operation; or
 
(2) The alcohol concentration in the operator's blood or breath is 0.08 grams or more of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or 0.08 grams or more of alcohol per 210 liters of breath. Provided however, that if State law that applies to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol establishes more restrictive limits of alcohol concentration in the operator's blood or breath, those limits supersede the limits specified in this paragraph.
 
 
Code of Federal Regulations
Title 32 - National Defense
Subtitle A - Department of Defense
CHAPTER V - DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
SUBCHAPTER I - LAW ENFORCEMENT AND CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS
PART 634 - MOTOR VEHICLE TRAFFIC SUPERVISION
Subpart D - Traffic Supervision
§ 634.34. Blood alcohol concentration standards
 
(a) Administrative revocation of driving privileges and other enforcement measures will be applied uniformly to offenders driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. When a person is tested under the implied consent provisions of § 634.8, the results of the test will be evaluated as follows:
 
(1) If the percentage of alcohol in the person's blood is less than 0.05 percent, presume the person is not under the influence of alcohol.
 
(2) If the percentage is 0.05 but less than 0.08, presume the person may be impaired. This standard may be considered with other competent evidence in determining whether the person was under the influence of alcohol.
 
(3) If the percentage is 0.08 or more, or if tests reflect the presence of illegal drugs, the person was driving while intoxicated.
 
(b) Percentages in paragraph (a) of this section are percent of weight by volume of alcohol in the blood based on grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. These presumptions will be considered with other evidence in determining intoxication.
  
 
United States Code
Title 10 - ARMED FORCES
Subtitle A - General Military Law
PART II - PERSONNEL
CHAPTER 47 - UNIFORM CODE OF MILITARY JUSTICE
SUBCHAPTER X - PUNITIVE ARTICLES
§ 911. Art. 111. Drunken or reckless operation of a vehicle, aircraft, or vessel
 
(a) Any person subject to this chapter who—
 
(1) operates or physically controls any vehicle, aircraft, or vessel in a reckless or wanton manner or while impaired by a substance described in section 912a(b) of this title (article 112a(b)), or
 
(2) operates or is in actual physical control of any vehicle, aircraft, or vessel while drunk or when the alcohol concentration in the person's blood or breath is equal to or exceeds the applicable limit under subsection (b), shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
 
(b)(1) For purposes of subsection (a), the applicable limit on the alcohol concentration in a person's blood or breath is as follows:
 
(A) In the case of the operation or control of a vehicle, aircraft, or vessel in the United States, such limit is the lesser of—
 
(i) the blood alcohol content limit under the law of the State in which the conduct occurred, except as may be provided under paragraph (2) for conduct on a military installation that is in more than one State; or
 
(ii) the blood alcohol content limit specified in paragraph (3).
 
(B) In the case of the operation or control of a vehicle, aircraft, or vessel outside the United States, the applicable blood alcohol content limit is the blood alcohol content limit specified in paragraph (3) or such lower limit as the Secretary of Defense may by regulation prescribe.
 
(2) In the case of a military installation that is in more than one State, if those States have different blood alcohol content limits under their respective State laws, the Secretary may select one such blood alcohol content limit to apply uniformly on that installation.
 
(3) For purposes of paragraph (1), the blood alcohol content limit with respect to alcohol concentration in a person's blood is 0.10 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood and with respect to alcohol concentration in a person's breath is 0.10 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath, as shown by chemical analysis.
 
(4) In this subsection:
 
(A) The term “blood alcohol content limit” means the amount of alcohol concentration in a person's blood or breath at which operation or control of a vehicle, aircraft, or vessel is prohibited.
 
(B) The term “United States” includes the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa and the term “State” includes each of those jurisdictions.
 
 
23 U.S.C. § 163
United States Code
Title 23 - HIGHWAYS
CHAPTER 1 - FEDERAL-AID HIGHWAYS
§ 163. Safety incentives to prevent operation of motor vehicles by intoxicated persons
 
(a) General Authority.—The Secretary shall make a grant, in accordance with this section, to any State that has enacted and is enforcing a law that provides that any person with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or greater while operating a motor vehicle in the State shall be deemed to have committed a per se offense of driving while intoxicated (or an equivalent per se offense).
 
(b) Grants.—For each fiscal year, funds authorized to carry out this section shall be apportioned to each State that has enacted and is enforcing a law meeting the requirements of subsection (a) in an amount determined by multiplying—
 
(1) the amount authorized to carry out this section for the fiscal year; by
 
(2) the ratio that the amount of funds apportioned to each such State under section 402 for such fiscal year bears to the total amount of funds apportioned to all such States under section 402 for such fiscal year.
 
(c) Use of Grants.—A State may obligate funds apportioned under subsection (b) for any project eligible for assistance under this title.
 
(d) Federal Share.—The Federal share of the cost of a project funded under this section shall be 100 percent.
 
(e) Penalty.—
 
(1) In general.—On October 1, 2003, and October 1 of each fiscal year thereafter, if a State has not enacted or is not enforcing a law described in subsection (a), the Secretary shall withhold from amounts apportioned to the State on that date under each of paragraphs (1), (3), and (4) of section 104(b) an amount equal to the amount specified in paragraph (2).
 
(2) Amount to be withheld.—If a State is subject to a penalty under paragraph (1), the Secretary shall withhold for a fiscal year from the apportionments of the State described in paragraph (1) an amount equal to a percentage of the funds apportioned to the State under paragraphs (1), (3), and (4) of section 104(b) for fiscal year 2003. The percentage shall be as follows:
 
(A) For fiscal year 2004, 2 percent.
 
(B) For fiscal year 2005, 4 percent.
 
(C) For fiscal year 2006, 6 percent.
 
(D) For fiscal year 2007, and each fiscal year thereafter, 8 percent.
 
(3) Failure to comply.—If, within 4 years from the date that an apportionment for a State is withheld in accordance with this subsection, the Secretary determines that the State has enacted and is enforcing a law described in subsection (a), the apportionment of the State shall be increased by an amount equal to the amount withheld. If, at the end of such 4-year period, any State has not enacted or is not enforcing a law described in subsection (a) any amounts so withheld from such State shall lapse.
 

 

Source for all citations on this page: FDsys, the Federal Digital System of the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO).
Excerpts from the United States Code are current as of 2012. Excerpts from the Code of Federal Regulations are current as of 2013.  Excerpts from Public Laws of Congress are current as of the year of enactment.
The GPO’s Public Domain/Copyright Notice is available under the Policies heading at
http://www.gpo.gov/help/index.html .

 

 __________________

 

[1] U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Presidential Initiative for Making 0.08 BAC the National Legal Limit: Recommendations from the Secretary of Transportation," House Conference Report No. 105-550, August 1998, and Statement by President, see 1998 U.S. Code Cong. and Adm. News, p. 64.

 

Expander Selected References for Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits: Adult Operators of Noncommercial Motor Vehicles

  1. Chang, K., Wu, C.C., and Ying, Y.H. The effectiveness of alcohol control policies on alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the United States. Accident Analysis & Prevention 45:406-415, 2012.
     
  2. Fell, J.C., Fisher, D.A., Voas, R.B., Tippetts. A.S., and Blackman, K. Changes in alcohol-involved fatal crashes associated with tougher state alcohol legislation. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 33(7):1208-1219, 2009.
     
  3. Flowers, N.T., Naimi, T.S., Brewer, R.D., Elder, R.W., Shults, R.A., and Jiles, R. Patterns of alcohol consumption and alcohol-impaired driving in the United States. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 32(4):639-644, 2008.
     
  4. Kaplan, S., and Prato, C.G. Impact of BAC limit reduction on different population segments: A Poisson fixed-effect analysis. Accident Analysis and Prevention 39(6):1146-54, 2007.
     
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and Transportation Safety. Alcohol Alert No. 52. Rockville, MD: NIAAA.
     
  6. Ramstedt M. Alcohol and fatal accidents in the United States–A time series analysis for 1950–2002. Accident Analysis & Prevention 40(4):1273-1281, 2008.
     
  7. U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Setting Limits, Saving Lives: The Case for 0.08 BAC Laws. Department of Transportation Highway Safety 809: 241, 2001.
     
  8. Voas, R.B., and Fell, J.C. Preventing impaired driving opportunities and problems. Alcohol Research and Health 34(2):225-235, 2011.
     
  9. Voas, R.B., Kelley-Baker, T., Romano, E., and Vishnuvajjala, R. Implied-consent laws: A review of the literature and examination of current problems and related statutes. Journal of Safety Research 40(2):77-83, 2009.
     
  10. Wagenaar, A.C., and Maldonado-Molina, M.M. Effects of drivers' license suspension policies on alcohol-related crash involvement: Long-term follow-up in 46 states. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 31(8):1399-1406, 2007.
     
  11. Wagenaar, A.C., Maldonado-Molina, M.M., Ma, L., Tobler, A.L. and Komro, K.A. Effects of legal BAC limits on fatal crash involvement: Analyses of 28 states from 1976 through 2002. Journal of Safety Research 38(5):493-499, 2007.
     
  12. Williams, A.F. Alcohol-impaired driving and its consequences in the United States: The past 25 years. Journal of Safety Research 37(2):123-38, 2006.

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