A little bit of alcohol can have a surprisingly strong effect. Sometimes, just one or two extra drinks can mean the difference between a legal blood alcohol concentration and an OUI.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine states that lowering the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) threshold could significantly reduce drunk driving fatalities. Currently, the BAC limit in Massachusetts, as in most states, is 0.08. The study recommends lowering this limit to 0.05. Lowering the limit by even a small amount could make a huge difference toward reducing the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths, the panel said.

There is currently no federal legislation on the docket to enforce a lower blood alcohol limit, but that could soon change. The state of Utah passed a law lowering its BAC threshold to 0.05, to go into effect in December of 2018. Massachusetts does not have any pending legislation addressing its blood alcohol threshold.

The level of alcohol required to surpass the legal limit can vary widely based on factors like height, weight and gender. For example, a small woman would become intoxicated after fewer drinks than a large man. The panel’s report did take this into consideration. It noted that under a 0.05 BAC limit, women who weigh over 120 pounds would likely reach the limit after two drinks. Men who weigh up to 160 pounds would also reach the threshold at two, while men who weighed over 180 pounds could probably drink three.

In its study, the panel made several other recommendations that could reduce drunk driving accidents, including:

  • Increasing alcohol taxes
  • Making alcohol more difficult to acquire
  • Reducing the hours and days that alcohol is available for purchase
  • Cracking down on underage liquor sales
  • Restricting alcohol advertising
  • Creating anti-alcohol campaigns similar to anti-smoking campaigns