On the EDge: 0.05 BAC is not a bad idea

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — The government should have no business telling me what I can or cannot put into my body.

As a matter of personal choice, if I want to have a couple of cocktails, smoke a joint or eat clean, organic food and eschew any and all means of impairment, it should be my decision, not that of the local, state or federal authorities. As long as I do not endanger any other living thing, it is none of their business.

However, it is the government’s responsibility to make sure that if I step out in public while impaired, turn the ignition of a motor vehicle and try to drive my way down the highway, there are laws in place to punish me for my irresponsible behavior.

I am not sure what motivated the Utah Legislature to pass the recent bill lowering the blood alcohol content for impairment from 0.08 of 0.05. My first reaction to the news was, to be honest, that the local culture and predominant religion were at the heart of the decision.

Utah has, traditionally, had some of the strongest liquor laws in the nation on the books, a result of religion and culture. That may or may not have had an impact on its latest legislation.

But Utah also has fewer DUI arrests per capita than any other state in the Union.

And that matters.

Much has already been written about Utah’s newest liquor law. Some have tried to ridicule it, some have advanced complex theories about just what constitutes impairment – body weight, consumption rates and all that – and some have tried to argue that it will further deteriorate the state’s tourism endeavors.

Perhaps you can find a loophole here and there in arguments about impairment and degrees of impairment. Perhaps you can argue about the tourism revenue. But the fact is that impairment is impairment, and quite frankly, nobody comes to Utah expecting to party like they do in Colorado, New York or anywhere else for that matter.

If you do just the slightest bit of research, you will find that some of the greatest tourism industries in the world have a 0.05 impairment cutoff. They will get you for a DUI at that level in France, Italy, Spain, Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Scotland, Germany, Austria and a host of other international destinations.

They will put you in handcuffs in Russia if you drive at 0.03 – at 0.02 in the Scandinavian countries. Japan has a zero tolerance, meaning one drop of alcohol in your system while driving and you go to jail.

Judgment and personal responsibility also come into play here. Designated drivers, public transportation or other alternatives can alleviate the problem. Hosts, hostesses, bartenders, waiters and waitresses should not be afraid to cut somebody off if they believe they have had enough.

Want to imbibe?

That’s your business.

Just don’t go out on the street and endanger my life or anybody else’s.

Party at home.

Party at the bar.

Party with friends.

But find a safe way home. Cabs and designated drivers are a lot cheaper than the cost of a DUI.

Public awareness and education programs have slashed the number of deaths attributed to drunken driving, resulting in a 50 percent decrease since the 1980s, particularly in the 16- to 20-year-old age group. Even so, on average, one person in the United States is killed every 51 minutes as a result of a drunk driver. That’s 27 lives a day.

Of course, we have myriad ways of killing ourselves in the United States.

On average, 87 people are killed each day in the United States as a result of gun violence. About 130 people die each day in the United States from drug overdose, whether through illicit of prescription abuse. There are 121 suicides each day in the United States.

Doesn’t the Grim Reaper have enough tools at his disposal already to thin the herd without us lending a hand?

The Utah Legislature is rarely cited for being visionary or wise. It is often chided for falling behind more progressive states and nations.

But perhaps there are lessons to be learned from most of the European and Scandinavian countries.

I am hopeful that if signed by Gov. Herbert, the new law will not uniformly result in a skyrocketing number of DUI arrests. Instead, I hope the new law will make people stop and think, line up designated drivers or arrange for public transportation to safely take them home after a night of celebration.

I hope it will make them seriously consider the ramifications of driving under the influence, if not from the inherent dangers, then from the aspect of how it will hit your wallet because of the fines, attorney fees, possible impound fees, license revocation or suspension, possibility of incarceration and, if deemed by the court, diversion programs.

It would be disingenuous to express faux piety. I know as well as anybody that in the real world, a DUI is a crapshoot, and that a holier-than-thou attitude is hypocritical. I mean, how many of us have driven while impaired without consequence?

I understand that we all make mistakes, that we are imperfect creatures and that we, at times, do not use the best judgment.

That’s why, hopefully, the new law will make us all think twice before having one for the road.

As I said, I am not sure what motivated this piece of legislation, whether it was inspired by church doctrine, local culture or, as much of a long shot as it may be, science.

And we don’t know – will never know – how many lives may be saved by it.

But if it removes at least one family’s pain and grief, how can you argue against it?

Besides, like it or not, we all have to grow up and accept personal responsibility sometime, don’t we?


Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

No bad days!

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

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

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  • [email protected] March 14, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks Ed! Well written and balanced.

  • DesertBill March 14, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    You make MANY good points. One of them is “I am hopeful that if signed by Gov. Herbert, the new law will not uniformly result in a skyrocketing number of DUI arrests. Instead, I hope the new law will make people stop and think….”

  • utahdiablo March 14, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    How do you measure Marijuana in your blood stream when the Utah Cops pull you over for driving impaired? Get ready for this straight from California baby,… Due to the increased number of drivers driving while under the influence of drugs, police officers in Los Angeles are now testing using drug swabs at DUI checkpoints. The test is roughly eight minutes long and uses a person’s saliva to detect THC, crystal meth, methadone, cocaine, and several other prescription medications….so enjoy the ride

  • SteveB March 15, 2017 at 6:49 am

    Your data on “gun violence” is misleading at best, and based upon your past editorials, I would go so far as to say disingenuous. You toss out a statistic with no reference, making it sound like that many people are murdered every day with a firearm. According to the FBI, in 2014, the last year for which they have accurate data, 8124 people were murdered with a firearm, that works out to 22.25 people per day.
    Of course, people also use firearms to commit suicide, which is another statistic, or 21, 334 in 2014, according to the CDC. This represents half of all suicides. The balance are committed using poisons/overdoses, suffocation, etc.
    You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

  • shedevilwithasword March 15, 2017 at 9:14 am

    @SteveB “You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.”
    But your president is, right?

  • commonsense March 15, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    Very nice piece Ed.

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