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Zero Tolerance Laws

Since 1988, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have implemented zero tolerance laws that set a limit of .02 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or lower for drivers under age 21. The .02 limit is equivalent to about one drink for the average person.

Although zero tolerance laws have been challenged based on their effectiveness, they have helped to significantly reduce the number of fatal crashes involving intoxicated young drivers. The first four states to reduce the legal BAC limit for young drivers (Maine, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and New Mexico) experienced a 34 percent decline in nighttime fatal crashes among young drivers. This decline was about one-third greater than a similar decline in four nearby states. An additional study of 12 states that passed zero tolerance laws reported a 20 percent reduction in single-vehicle nighttime fatal crashes among 15- to 25-year-old drivers.

Public awareness campaigns have been proven to dramatically increase the effectiveness of the law. Acoording to U.S. Dept. of Justice data following the implementation of a .02 zero tolerance law, Maryland experienced an 11 percent statewide reduction in alcohol-related crashes in young drivers. However, in six counties where a special public education campaign was implemented, the crash rate was reduced by 50 percent.

This example highlights the importance of building awareness of public policy through effective education and outreach efforts. When people understand why policies are in place and how to comply, more lives can be saved.

Zero Tolerance Laws

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