Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that seeks to provide people and communities with information needed to protect their health. Though it is part of a federal agency, it has received significant funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to highlight its research on the harmful effects of alcohol.

The CDC’s position towards alcohol is closely aligned with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol.” The WHO advocates for higher alcohol taxes, more police roadblocks, reduced availability of alcohol, end of drink promotions, and a 0.05 percent blood alcohol concentration limit for drivers.

The CDC is the first governmental organization to openly advocate for a lower 0.05 blood alcohol limit for drivers, though the Centers urge zero tolerance, arguing that you should not consume any alcohol, regardless of the law, before driving. The United States lowered it’s legal limit to 0.08 in the 1990s after pressure from public health activists and traffic safety advocates such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Among federal government organizations, the CDC is leading the fight to further regulate and marginalize alcohol. It continues to press agencies like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to join the CDC in advocating for increased alcohol control policies.

Bad Stats

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study on the effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints in reducing instances of drunk driving that is often cited by activist groups. The study found that the utilization of checkpoints reduced drunk driving fatalities by 20 percent. However, there are key problems with the study that should preclude its application to checkpoint laws in the United States.

More than half of the studies cited were conducted outside of the United States. Of the studies that were actually done in the U.S., all are 11 to 25 years old, and many of the checkpoints cited in them were conducted nearly 30 years ago. This was prior to the huge public education campaign, greater enforcement, and harsher penalties of the 1980’s that, according to Mother Against Drunk Driving, contributed to a decrease in alcohol-related traffic fatalities by nearly 50 percent.

The other half of the studies were conducted outside of the United States—in France and Australia (both of which have a legal BAC of 0.05)—using a checkpoint system where every single driver gets a breathalyzer test (these checkpoints are illegal in the U.S.). This clearly represents a very different situation than your typical checkpoint in the U.S., skewing the results.

In this study, the CDC even acknowledged “the degree to which changes in social norms have contributed to the long-term maintenance of the beneficial effects of sobriety checkpoints is unclear.”