Utah Pushes Groundbreaking Law to Change DUI Limits

Will lowering the legal alcohol limits in Utah start a trend among states?
Will lowering the legal alcohol limits in Utah start a trend among states?

Since the 1990’s, 0.08 has been the US gold standard for DUI limits. This blood alcohol content level became the norm when the federal government offered all states with higher limits a financial incentive to lower it to 0.08 percent. Naturally, the states all complied. As a result, this number has been traditionally accepted across the country as a safe limit for drivers.

Until this month…

Lawmakers in Utah decided to shake up this tradition, voting earlier this month to lower the blood alcohol content limit for drunk driving offenses to 0.05 percent. Supported by the governor, the law is expected to take effect on December 30, 2018 – just in time for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Once passed, Utah will have the lowest DUI threshold in the country.

Support – and Backlash – for Utah’s Bill

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended in the past that limits across the nation be reduced to 0.05 percent. What’s more, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that even drivers with a BAC of 0.05 percent may have difficulty with steering, coordination, tracking moving objects, and responding to emergencies. People start to become impaired with the first drink.

Rep. Norm Thurston, who supports Utah’s bill, pointed out that many foreign countries have stricter standards than we do in the US. He’s right. Other countries have BAC thresholds at 0.05 or even lower. Sweden, Norway, and China are among the countries that have limits of 0.02. Afghanistan and Brazil both have zero tolerance policies when it comes to drinking and driving.

Why haven’t these harsher standards been more widely adopted in the US? It’s mostly due to pressure from the hospitality industry. Even in Utah, the American Beverage Institute and the Utah Restaurant Association strongly opposed the bill. Their condemnation of the bill wasn’t enough to stop its passage, but similar resistance in other states has kept the limit fixed at 0.08. A comparable proposal recently failed to pass Hawaii’s legislature.

Sara Longwell, American Beverage Institute Managing Director, claims the law won’t make Utah’s roads any safer. She notes that 77 percent of alcohol-related traffic deaths in Utah are due to drivers with a BAC of 0.15 or greater. Longwell stated that the law will only “criminalize perfectly responsible behavior.” These concerns are common among those invested in the beverage industry, who worry new limits will only hurt their business.

What Do You Think?

Is this law’s passage the start of a new nationwide trend? Will we soon view 0.05 as the new magic number? Washington lawmakers are considering lowering their state’s limit. Will anyone else follow suit? Time will tell.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image Source: iStock

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