Posted January 10, 2019 | Utah Blog
In the 1990s, Utah became the first state to adopt a landmark law that would drop the blood alcohol limit for drunk driving from 0.10 to 0.08. In the nearly 20 years that followed, the rest of the nation would follow suit. In the years since the state adopted a 0.08 BAC, traffic deaths related to alcohol have dropped 10 %. In another pioneering decision, Utah has decided to drop the BAC for impaired driving yet again, this time to 0.05%.
As of December 30, citizens in the state of Utah will have to be even more careful about drinking before getting behind the wheel. As of the day before New Year’s Eve, the state’s acceptable blood alcohol level was a mere 0.05%, making it the strictest state in the country on DUIs – at least from a charging perspective.
It is helpful to know what kind of difference a 0.05 and a 0.08 can make for the average person. The American Beverage Institute notes that it takes about 4 drinks to reach a BAC of 0.08 percent for a 180 pounds man. A BAC of 0.05 is about half that, or a little more than 2 drinks. For women, it could be even fewer.
In terms of impairment, the American Beverage Institute argues that a BAC of 0.05, while causing some technical form of impairment, is actually less dangerous than driving while using a hands-free device. Under the new law, it may be possible some Utahans will face arrest after a single drink. Keep in mind that the BAC threshold varies widely based on weight and other factors.
Utah has a history of being a strict state when it comes to alcohol consumption and regulation. Some laws regulate the type of alcohol proprietors can sell. Utah also has specific limits for purchasing beer and heavy beer. The 0.05 threshold is the next step in regulating an industry that already faces stringent rules.
Utah state Rep. Norm Thurston, who sponsored the bill in 2018, says that 0.08 represented a significant amount of drinking, leading to the need for a change.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been lobbying states to pass the new legal limit since 2013. Utah has been the first to do so, which Thurston notes is long overdue.
Passing the bill was not without controversy. Critics of the measure slammed Thurston over his relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They called it a separation of church and state issue, since the Mormon faith does not allow its members to consume alcohol. Many called his impartiality into question and thought it disingenuous for him to enforce his religious beliefs on non-Mormons.
One of the most vocal critics of the 0.05 limit has been the American Beverage Institute, which argues that changing the legal limit will not save lives. In fact, it argues that it will only target moderate, social drinkers. Fear of reprisal could affect the restaurant and hospitality industry, they fear.
A spokeswoman for the American Beverage Institute noted that almost 70% of alcohol-related crashes throughout the country are due to someone with a 0.15 BAC or more. That is three times the current legal limit in the state of Utah.
With the new law officially in place, the question is: how will it affect the average citizen? Will DUIs across the state increase? Likely not, according to the Utah Highway Patrol.
Law enforcement officers are trained to perform traffic stops based on the level of perceived impairment, not a set amount. People who show obvious signs of driving under the influence, such as lane drifting or driving too slow or too fast, will continue to be under scrutiny. As long as drivers are not showing signs of impairment and driving responsibly, they should not be affected by the change. In the short term, supporters expect that a lower limit will encourage citizens in the state of Utah to make more responsible decisions.