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Out of Control Policy Blog Archives: 5.19.13–5.25.13

Reducing BAC from .08 to .05 Will Not Significantly Reduce Drunk Driving

In an Op-Ed in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution, I detail why lowering the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) from .08 to .05 will not significantly reduce deaths. 

Of the more than 36,000 traffic fatalities in the U.S., less than one percent was caused by drivers with a blood alcohol content between .05 and .08. Two thirds of fatalities involved drivers with a BAC of 0.14 or higher. Each person’s body processes alcohol differently. Some people can safely drive with a BAC of .10. Others cannot safely drive with a BAC of .02. Setting one standard is arbitrary. 

There are many factors that make driving dangerous. Talking on a cell phone, having kids in the car and adjusting the radio can make it more likely for a driver to have an accident than a BAC of .08. Driving will never be risk free. 

Driving has become safer. In 2012 there were 10,000 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. This is a substantial decrease from 1955 when there were 55,000 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles. 

The entire Op-Ed is available here. I have included the first few paragraphs of the Op-Ed below 

Everyone wants travelers heading to Lake Lanier, family barbecues or other events to be safe this Memorial Day weekend. Too many Americans continue to die from drunk driving. However, there is little factual evidence that a new proposal to lower the blood alcohol content standard used to determine drunk driving from 0.08 to 0.05 will reduce deaths. 

Lowering the standard will not save many lives. The statistics the National Transportation Safety Board used to recommend a lower standard are questionable. NTSB claims that lowering the standard will cut many of the nearly 10,000 annual deaths from alcohol-impaired driving. But of the more-than 36,000 yearly traffic fatalities in the U.S., less than 1 percent were caused by drivers with a blood alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08. Two-thirds of fatalities involved motorists with a BAC of 0.14 or higher. Surprisingly, drivers with a BAC of 0.01 to 0.03 were involved in more fatal accidents than drivers with a BAC of 0.08 to 0.10. 

Studies indicate that any number of things — talking on a cell phone, eating, adjusting the radio or having kids in the car — can make it more likely for a driver to have an accident than having a 0.08 BAC. When the BAC was last lowered, from 0.08 to 0.10, alcohol-related traffic fatalities actually increased. 

The rest of the article is available here.

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I-5 Bridge Collapses; Washington State Ranked 34th In Making Progress on Deficient and Functionally Obsolete Bridges

The Seattle Times reports:

An Interstate 5 bridge collapsed into the Skagit River on Thursday evening, according to the Washington State Patrol. Trooper Mark Francis wrote on Twitter that people and cars are in the water. Both the north bound and south bound lanes were in the water, Francis wrote.

Our Reason Foundation study, "Examining 20 Years of U.S. Highway and Bridge Performance Trends," found Washington ranked 34th out of 50 states in terms of making progress reducing its percentage of deficient and functionally obsolete bridges from 1989 to 2008. Overall the findings on functionally obsolete and deficient bridges were: 

Federal law mandates the uniform inspection of all bridges for structural and functional adequacy at least every two years. Bridges are rated “deficient” if they are deemed either “functionally obsolescent,” for instance being too narrow for current traffic, or “structurally deficient” in condition. About one-half of deficient bridges are in each group. Funds are allocated to states based on estimated costs to repair deficient bridges.

The nation has made considerable progress in reducing the backlog of deficient bridges over the past two decades. The percentage of bridges rated deficient nationwide has been reduced by about 14 percentage points, from 37.8% to 23.7%. However, the rate of reduction seems to be slowing, since in the last 10 years, the percentage of deficient bridges has been reduced by about 4.5 percentage points, or about 0.45 percentage points per year. At this rate, it would take about 52 years to exhaust the backlog of deficient bridges nationwide. Further, since most of that money is spent on structurally deficient bridges, the percentage of functionally obsolescent bridges has not reduced as much.

The progress in meeting bridge deficiencies has been quite widespread. Of the 50 states, 40 registered improvement in the percentage of deficient bridges over 20 years. They are led by Mississippi and Nebraska, reporting an improvement of 31.7 and 31.5 percentage points, respectively. Nine states, led by Colorado, cut their percentage of deficient bridges by half or better.

On the other hand, 10 widely scattered states reported a worsening percentage of deficient bridges. They are led by Hawaii and Alaska at 14.3 and 10.5 percentage point increases, respectively. Arizona reported the highest relative increase, a more than doubling of its percentage of deficient bridges, but from a very low 1989 base of just 5.4%.

Full report here (.pdf).

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Reason's Len Gilroy Talks TVA Privatization, Annual Privatization Report on Heartland Institute Podcast

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the Heartland Institute's Steve Stanek for an episode of their Heartland Daily Podcast, where we discussed President Obama's recent budget proposal to study a potential privatization of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). From Heartland's Somewhat Reasonable blog:

President Barack Obama has proposed studying the possibility of privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest government-owned utility. Privatization expert Leonard Gilroy of The Reason Foundation tells Heartland's Steve Stanek why the president has a good idea, and why area politicians in both major political parties oppose it.

An iTunes link for this podcast is available here. Beyond the proposed TVA privatization, we also discussed several highlights from Reason Foundation's Annual Privatization Report 2013.

Speaking of the TVA, I was also quoted in a Budget and Tax News article last week on the privatization proposal. Here's an excerpt:

The Chattanooga Times Free Press newspaper declared in an editorial that opposing TVA privatization is a mistake and noted the disconnect between some Tennessee politicians who declare they favor free enterprise and limited government yet oppose privatization.

“The only real argument for keeping the TVA's assets in government hands are weak arguments like, ‘people like the TVA how it is’ and ‘that's how we've always done it.’ Sadly, that stale mindset has overtaken area Republican lawmakers who claim to oppose government control and socialist programs,” the newspaper’s editors wrote. [...]

Privatization expert Leonard Gilroy of Reason Foundation said he sees lots of institutional opposition to privatization.

"Despite being an utterly nonessential federal asset, there appears to be no political will in Congress whatsoever to authorize a TVA privatization," he said. "Senator Alexander, Senator [Bob] Corker (R) and other Tennessee congressmen of both political parties have already condemned the proposal to merely study privatization, which is all the President has proposed. This just goes to show how difficult it is in real life to shut down government agencies and enterprises once they spring to life and build constituencies."

Nonetheless, he said privatization ought to be studied.

"There's nothing inherently governmental about running a power business, so privatization could provide an opportunity to bring in a businesslike approach and more efficient operations and management compared to what's seen today as a government-owned enterprise," he said. "However, there would be some very thorny implementation issues to work out, not the least of which being how to handle the divestiture of the TVA land and power assets that were originally seized from private hands to begin with."

For a more detailed analysis of the merits and challenges associated with privatizing the TVA, check out this recent Reason Foundation article by Steve Esposito. 

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