Don’t ignore the .05 assault on women

The “pussy hat” is a new cultural icon that first made an appearance in January at the Woman’s March and has since been present at a number of rallies and events that center around gender equality and female empowerment.

But this surge of enthusiasm has been noticeably missing from a more clandestine attack on women. Three states — Utah, Hawaii and Washington — all attempted to lower the blood- alcohol arrest level for driving from .08 to .05 in their most recent legislative sessions. Utah was the only state to sign the proposal into law, but others will likely follow in the coming years. These laws make many women vulnerable to arrest after little more than one drink.

While supporters of lowering the arrest level to .05 believe it will have an impact on dangerous drivers, the reality is the law targets moderate social drinkers — especially female ones. Women will be disproportionally affected because they hit a .05 BAC more quickly than their male counterparts — which is due to differences in body chemistry and a different muscle-to-fat ratio. In fact, when comparing a 120-pound woman and a 140-pound man, the woman can consume half as many drinks as the man before hitting the arrest threshold of .05. And when referring to “half as many,” it’s not half of much. The man would be legally unable to drive after just two drinks — thus leaving women susceptible to arrest after little more than one.

The same feminists who found it scandalous that Vice President Mike Pence won’t attend an event where alcohol is being served without his wife, should be similarly outraged by the increased burden these laws place on women. In the world of business and politics, moderate social drinking often comes with the job. There are client dinners, office happy hours, and drinks with the boss that occur over the course of an ordinary working day for many professional women. And during these events client relationships are formed and office culture is created — making having a drink or two a normal part of professional life and an ingredient in the complex social cocktail that leads to a higher salary.

According to American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks writing in Forbes, average income rises (and the risk of heart disease falls) with moderate alcohol consumption. For women specifically, their peak income occurs when they consume, on average, 1.5 drinks per day — enough to reach that arbitrary number of .05. The fear of being charged with drunk driving after just one or two drinks will further handicap women who engage in these professional rituals. Ostensibly women could take up golf instead, but having a couple drinks on the links is also par for the course.

You may be thinking that there’s a trade-off — women may have increased risk for arrest, but lives will be saved. But that relationship doesn’t exist. In fact only 1 percent of traffic fatalities involve drivers with a BAC between .05 and .08— the intended target interval of .05 proposals. And even those in the government with more prohibitionist tendencies are unwilling to say drunk drivers are the cause of these fatalities. That’s because drivers at this BAC level are sober by any reasonable definition.

Driving impairment is insignificant with a .05 BAC. There are many ordinary driving habits that are much more dangerous than driving after one or two drinks. A driver is more dangerous talking on a hands-free cellphone than at the current legal limit of .08, and a driver is more than 17 times more likely to crash with general aggressive driving (like speeding) than driving with a BAC of .05. In fact, anyone simply over the age of 65 or under the age of 21 is more impaired than a driver at .05.

If, as a society, we are comfortable subjecting a woman to possible jail time, $10,000 in fines, attorney fees, hiked insurance rates and an ignition interlock because she is driving home after little more than one drink, then we also have to be prepared to ban teenagers and senior citizens from getting behind the wheel and lock drivers up for talking on their Bluetooth.

It’s illogical to create new drunk driving laws that don’t actually target drivers who are drunk. If women are willing to fight for their rights by wearing something called a “pussy hat” they should feel similarly emboldened to push back against bad laws that could land them in jail for not much more than a single drink.


Sarah Longwell is the managing director of the American Beverage Institute.


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