Utah House passes bill lowering legal blood alcohol limit to 0.05

Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo, asks the Utah House to pass his bill lowering the legal blood alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 24, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – The Utah House passed a bill Thursday that would lower the state’s blood alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05, making it the strictest BAC limit in the nation. The limit equates to three drinks for an average man and two drinks for a woman.

The bill passed 48 to 26 in the House, with one representative absent or not voting. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo, told the House floor that a BAC 0.05 negatively affects a driver’s tracking, steering and coordinated response based on studies he has researched while crafting the bill.

The probability of being involved in a single-car fatality – in other words, that driver running into something and killing themselves – is 700 to 2,100 percent higher than a person at 0.00,” Thurston said.

Thurston called the BAC 0.05 limit the international standard as well, noting it is the limit enforced by 100 countries across the globe.

Commercial truckers in the United States have a BAC limit of 0.04.

The legislation has the support of the National Transportation Safety Board. Della Dinh-Zarr, vice-chairman of the NTSB, previously visited Utah to speak in favor of the bill.

The general idea is to change behavior so drinking and driving are largely separate concepts in the minds of those who choose to consume alcohol.

“I’m not here to stop people from drinking,” Dinh-Zarr said. “I’m here today to stop people from dying.”

If a nationwide 0.05 BAC limit was observed by all the states, it could save 1,800 lives annually, Dinh-Zarr said, which translates into an 11 percent decrease in alcohol-related deaths. The NTSB has advocated for lowering BAC limits to 0.05 or less since 2013.

A single car wreck at 800 East and 100 South by Dixie State University Tuesday night resulted in the arrest of the driver for alleged DUI and running from police, among other offenses, St. George, Utah, Feb. 16, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The amount of alcohol that 0.05 entails is about 56 ounces, or five cans of Utah beer consumed in an hour, or two-thirds of a bottle of wine, Thurston said.

It’s not so much having just one beer after work as it is basically having a six-pack and then getting in your car and driving, Thurston said. Under the current 0.08 BAC limit, someone can do just that, he said.

“They would be legal to drive, but they shouldn’t be driving,” he said.

Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden, who supports the bill, said he believes the 0.08 limit “sends a false message” of just how much someone thanks they can drink and stay under that limit.

Opponents to the bill have said it would criminalize otherwise responsible drivers who are not impaired.

Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, said he would not support the bill because he didn’t believe the system “was broken” and that law enforcement already did a great job in detecting impaired drivers.

The bill doesn’t change the way police officers do things, Thurston said. If someone is suspected of impaired driving, he or she will be pulled over accordingly and subjected to sobriety tests. It is only after a person fails those tests that blood alcohol content is tested.

“I strongly support this concept,” Rep Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said. “I think we need to say, ‘Look, if you’re impaired just stay off the highway.’

The American Beverage Institute wrote an op-ed featured in The Salt Lake Tribune Jan. 24 and the Honolulu Star Feb. 9 speaking out against Thurston’s bill, as well as similar bills proposed in Hawaii and Washington.

Aftermath of a vehicle rollover that occurred in the parking lot of an LDS chapel at 220 W. 500 North in St. George. The driver of the BMW that rolled was arrested for suspected impairment while his passenger, a woman who was ejected during the rollover, was taken to the hospital. The BMW slammed into a parked Dodge pickup truck and sent it into a brick wall before both came to a stop, St. George, Utah, Feb. 2, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“Lowering the legal limit to 0.05 would shift focus away from the truly dangerous drunk drivers on the road — while making it unnecessarily inconvenient for anyone to enjoy a glass of their favorite beer, wine or spirit,” wrote Sarah Longwell is the managing director of the American Beverage Institute, in the Honolulu Star op-ed.

“Instead of embarking on a crusade that targets responsible drinkers who pose little danger to society, let’s worry about the high-risk drinkers who actually deserve the jail time and high court fees imposed on them,” Longwell wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune op-ed.

According to the fiscal note attached to the bill, implementation is estimated to cost the state $554,000 by fiscal year 2019.

If passed and signed by the governor, the lower BAC limit would go into effect Dec. 30, 2018.

Southern Utah Reps. Walt Brooks, Merrill Nelson, Brad Last, John Westwood, Mike Noel, V. Lowry Snow and Jon Stanard each voted for the bill.

Resources

Read more: See all St. George News reports on Utah Legislature 2017 issues

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

 

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8 Comments

  • ladybugavenger February 24, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    Laws do not stop people from drinking and driving. However, it’s possible this will bring in more revenue on fines and such.

    It’s best to not drink any alcohol and drive. It’s not worth the jail, courts, fines, and losing drivers license. But someone who drinks and drives will not be deterred.

    Stay safe!

    • voice of reason February 25, 2017 at 7:06 am

      But Laws will stop someone from getting an abortion? Amazing!

  • .... February 25, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Well I’m sure Real Life will be upset about this now he will have to take a cab !

    • Real Life February 25, 2017 at 9:02 am

      Cab driver. Now there’s an idea for you. At 3am, instead of drooling all over your computer, you could use this time to pick people up and drop them off, and get paid! See? You’re welcome.

  • Henry February 25, 2017 at 8:49 am

    So Utah may enact the strictest BAC limits in the nation, while doing nothing about our lax laws regarding handheld cell phone usage and texting?

    • Dolly February 25, 2017 at 1:58 pm

      Well said, Henry! I couldn’t agree more! Utah legislators have no common sense!

  • voice of reason February 25, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    I truly do not understand our state legislators. I can’t decide if they’re dumb, ignorant or just plain stupid. They seem convinced that we have some of the lowest rates of drunk driving due to the “strict” enforcement of DUI laws.
    It never seems to cross their minds that maybe the real reason for the low rates of alcohol consumption might be the majority of people living in the state consider themselves members of “The Church” and they shun alcohol (at least in public settings).

    Maybe they are just idiots. Wouldn’t surprise me.

  • Real Life February 26, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    This new law is beyond stupid. Just more Mormons thinking they are doing good, but making themselves look like idiots. You want to curb drunk driving? Make the penalty harsher for repeat offenders. There are people out there with multiple DUI’s, that still drive legally here in Utah.

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