By ERIC TICHY
Special to the OBSERVER
A proposed reduction in the allowable blood alcohol concentration level for drivers is receiving widespread support in Chautauqua County.
Of law enforcement officials interviewed this past week, all said they supported recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board to have states explore reducing BAC levels from .08 percent to .05.
"People should not drink and drive," Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace said. "There are so many other things people can be doing that doesn't involve having drinks then getting behind the wheel."
Gerace noted alcohol affects everyone in different ways. Some can have several drinks and feel in control, he said, while others may have one drink and feel impaired.
"Someone may feel hammered when they are blowing a .04," the sheriff said.
The maximum BAC level under New York state law is .08 percent. A driver with a BAC of .05 currently could be charged with driving with ability impaired.
Area law enforcement officials were asked to comment on the proposed change to blood alcohol levels.
"The Lakewood-Busti Police Department has always taken a proactive approach toward those who choose to drive while intoxicated," said Sgt. Paul Gustafson. "Lowering the legal limit from .08 percent to .05 percent will make our roads safer, and at the same time will present us with new challenges."
Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Hover said, "I really believe that lowering the BAC to .08 made a significant impact on the amount of drunk drivers on today's roads, thus lowering the amount of fatal accidents.
"In my opinion, by lowering the BAC to .05 will once again significantly reduce the amount of drunk drivers on area highways."
Sgt. Gary Segrue, station commander for the Jamestown State Police barracks said he would support any measure enacted by the state legislature that would create safer roads.
According to the NTSB, efforts taken within the last two decades to address impaired driving include: A zero-tolerance approach for drivers under 21; a BAC of .04 percent and random drug and alcohol testing for commercial drivers; a national standardized field sobriety test training program; and increased penalties for repeat offenders, among other initiatives.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced recently that more than 3,100 New York state residents with previous driving while intoxicated convictions were denied access to a driver's license. The multi-pronged initiative limits drivers with a history of repeat alcohol- or drug-related arrests of the road.
"We have seen too many times the heartbreak and tragedy that results when a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs gets behind the wheel," Cuomo said. "Those who have continually shown a complete lack of regard for the safety of other drivers have no place on New York's roadways.
"With more than 3,100 potentially dangerous motorists kept off the road since September, it is clear these new regulations have already been a tremendous success at protecting law-abiding New York drivers, passengers, and pedestrians."
Cuomo said the state Department of Motor Vehicles since September has received 3,891 applications for relicensing from drivers with more than two alcohol or drug offenses on their record.
Of those applications, 3,164 were denied for an additional five years; of those denied, 1,658 were permanently denied because they either had five or more convictions or three to four convictions within the last 25 years plus at least one serious driving offense.
Cuomo said almost 700 drivers with previous alcohol or drug convictions were relicensed, but required to use an ignition interlock.