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.
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 thinks 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.
“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.
- Read the bill: 2017 HB 155 Driving Under the Influence and Public Safety Revisions, First Substitute
- To contact your legislators:
- Southern Utah Sens. Ralph Okerlund, Don Ipson, Evan Vickers and David Hinkins | Listing of all senators.
- Southern Utah Reps. Walt Brooks, Merrill Nelson, Brad Last, John Westwood, Mike Noel, V. Lowry Snow and Jon Stanard | Listing of all members of the House of Representatives
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