Utah will soon be the strictest state in the nation when it comes to DUI law. On December 30, 2018, the legal driving blood alcohol limit will be lowered from .08 to .05, making Utah the first state in the U.S. to officially put the law in place.
Will Stricter Standards Reduce Drunk Driving?
A few of the driving forces behind the legislative decision include support from the National Transportation Safety Board and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, as well as academic research on the benefits of decreasing legal BAC limits.
One study, conducted by the University of Chicago and Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, found that alcohol-related driving fatalities were reduced by 10% between 1982 and 2014 after the U.S. had dropped the legal BAC from .10 to .08.
Additionally, the researchers found that lowering the legal BAC limit from .08 to .05 could reduce fatal alcohol-related crashes by 11%. Researchers estimate that if every state were to adopt the .05 limit, it could potentially save 1,790 lives a year.
Several other states have also considered the .05 legislation over the last few years, including New York, Delaware, Hawaii, and Washington. In Texas, which consistently sees the nation’s largest number of drunk driving deaths each year, a recent poll showed that 60% of people support lowering the legal BAC for operating a vehicle.
Legislation Met with Resistance
But Utah’s legislators, convinced that lowering the legal driving blood alcohol level will reduce drunk driving fatalities, have been the only state representatives to pass the law. And in response to concerns from the hospitality and travel industries, they allowed for more than a year and a half for preparation and training before the law goes into effect.
While there are many supporters of lowering the BAC threshold, there is also strong opposition for the .05 legislation, mainly by the American Beverage Institute (ABI) and restaurants and bars in the state. Local businesses argue they will take a financial hit as they expect a decrease in alcohol sales, but opponents also believe that the law is targeting responsible drinkers—those that choose to drink in moderation could soon face the consequences of a DUI.
ABI’s Communications Director, Jackson Shedelbower, says that states should be focusing on repeat offenders and heavy drinkers, as the majority of alcohol-related fatalities involve drivers with high BAC levels.
But that position ignores the fact that in 2017 nearly 1,900 people died in traffic crashes where a driver had a BAC between .01 and .07. Critics also point out that the new law doesn’t target all drinkers—only drinkers who choose to get behind the wheel after driving.
Tara Gill, State Programs Director for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, believes that the new law will have a deterrent effect on the Utah population.
“Lowering the BAC to .05 does not necessarily result in more arrests. It’s a behavioral change,” she said. “Somebody who may have had three drinks may now only have two. Some people will choose not to drive after drinking.”
Do you think the new law will help reduce drunk driving fatalities in Utah?