Utah Has Gone and Done It: Alcohol Limit Lowered to .05

Some states profess to be on the forefront of anti-drunk driving legislation. Others are happy to adopt the trends or ignore them. But few states can say they really blaze a trail in the American anti-DUI movement.Change to Utah alcohol limit

Utah just leapt ahead. Their governor just signed House Bill 155, which lowers the Utah alcohol limit – the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for intoxication – from .08 to .05.

That’s a big change. Some people will be able to drink very little and still find themselves under the .05 limit. A 100-pound person, for example, could easily reach that level after one drink, and would surely be well over the limit with two. You’d have to be a fairly large or alcohol-tolerant person to stay under the limit with more than two drinks.

Of course, no one forces a person to drive right after having one or two drinks. Allowing enough time for the alcohol to leave the system takes care of the legal problem too.

Some questions remain now that the .05 limit is law. One question is: was the change in the Utah alcohol limit a step in the right direction, or just another weird Utah alcohol law?

Utah: Land of Strange Liquor Laws

Due to the dominance of Mormonism in local culture, Utah is home to more unusual liquor laws than any other state. Some of the unique prohibitions found in Utah:

  • Bartending is out of sight: you’re not allowed to watch drinks being mixed. Bartenders must step behind some kind of screen or partition – the famous Zion curtain.
  • Beers on tap must not be above 4 percent alcohol.
  • Liquor must be measured out using strictly metered equipment so that no shot exceeds. 1.5 ounces.
  • Restaurants serve alcohol, but diners can’t request booze until after they order their food.
  • Beer cannot be sold by the keg.
  • Bar licenses are rationed. They are issued in proportion to the population, so there is a chronic shortage.

To this list we can now add the .05 limit. However, though it might be unique in the US, it is hardly unusual worldwide. Most countries around the world have legal BAC limits below .08.

The big question, of course, is whether or not the new Utah alcohol limit will bring about less drunk driving. Utah already has fewer drunk drivers than other states, thanks to the LDS influence. While lowering the legal limit to .08 did have an effect on alcohol-related road deaths, it’s not certain that the new, even lower limit will have the same effect. Utah has generally good ignition interlock and DUI laws, so the lower limit might seem to be the next logical step.

Whether other states will follow is uncertain, however. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is not in any hurry to press for a lower limit: their priority is better ignition interlock laws, sobriety checkpoints, and no-refusal laws.

So for the near future, Utah will probably remain alone on the cutting edge of this particular movement. It will be worthwhile to see if the state reaps any benefits from the change. If so, then other states might start to follow. Though we’re not holding our breath.

Wisconsin OWI Court – Great Idea! Here’s How to Do It.

Wisconsin OWI Court - great ideaLike many people in Wisconsin, officials in Brown County are fed up with the state’s high levels of drunk driving. In particular, the number of multiple offenders who are arrested with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) well over twice the legal limit is shocking: a county chief judge found that almost half of 4th offenders had a BAC of .20 or over. The legal limit for intoxication is .08.

Clearly, levying the same punishments over and over again isn’t working for some hard-core repeat OWI offenders. So very wisely, judge Donald Zuidmulder wants to set up a program targeted at 4th OWI offenders because of the obvious risk they pose to public safety.

OWI Court – The Right Way to Go

When you have been arrested four times for driving with a high level of alcohol in your body, chances are  you have a serious drinking problem, one which needs to be addressed if you are ever going to stop driving drunk. OWI court, sometimes called sobriety court, is a solution that calls up resources from different areas – treatment professionals, law enforcement, and the legal system – to ensure that an offender deals with the underlying problem causing the drunk driving.

Generally an offender will have a supervisor assigned to his or her case. That supervisor will ensure that the offender goes to treatment sessions and makes progress while refraining from impaired driving.

The Magic Bullet: OWI Court Plus Ignition Interlocks

Michigan found a solution that has enjoyed great success: adding an ignition interlock requirement to sobriety court, and monitoring the results as part of the program. A supervisor gets the data reports from the interlock every month, and can check if any attempts have been made to drive drunk.

A recap of the benefits of the ignition interlock/sobriety court combination:

  • Court supervision ensures compliance with the interlock requirement. In non-supervised settings, a large percentage of offenders don’t comply with the interlock order.
  • The interlock ensures that an offender retains driving privileges, and can therefore get to treatment
  • The expense of incarceration is avoided.
  • Offenders can maintain or improve their employment situation, which would not be possible without the interlock and supervision.

In fact, the Michigan court system was so impressed with the sobriety court/ignition interlock combination that they issued a report praising the measure.

The ignition interlock/sobriety court combination has been a winner in Michigan. It could be a winner in Wisconsin as well. Kudos to Judge Zuidmulder for looking beyond the old solutions that weren’t working. If OWI court is adopted in Brown County, it could become an example for the rest of Wisconsin, which has a long way to go in dealing with its stubborn drunk driving problem.

Should Drunk Driving Laws Be Named After People?

drunk driving laws named after peopleIf you follow road safety legislation – and particularly drunk driving legislation – you have heard the names. Emma’s Law in South Carolina. Noah’s Law in Maryland. Annie’s Law in Ohio. Leandra’s Law and Vince’s Law in New York. Tyler’s Law in Tennessee. David’s Law in Missouri.

The names are all victims – typically young, some children, though not all: Annie Rooney, of Annie’s Law, was a 36-year-old lawyer.

These named laws come about when the family of a victim speaks out and gathers support for a law that would help prevent the drunk driving that caused the death in question. There’s no doubt that the faces and stories that accompany these drunk driving laws helped to get them passed.

drunk driving laws - trends in namngNow South Carolina, home of Emma’s Law, has halted the practice of naming laws after people. The aim, it’s said, is to take the emotion out of the process of lawmaking. The view is that legislation should address crime, negligence and other wrongdoing in a logical manner. If one is defending the law, one should do it without feeling they are defending a particular victim. And opponents should not feel stigmatizes for fighting legislation – it does not mean they have less regard for the victims.

Proponents of the practice like it because it works. When you have a good story, you know it and can use the narrative to make the effect of the law more vivid. The question is whether that is popularization or manipulation.

In general, the practice of naming laws after people is winding down, partly because states have already addressed many of the issues that affect young people.

One area that has not been fully addressed is drunk driving. A number of the above-named laws, including Emma’s Law and Annie’s Law, are about mandating ignition interlocks for first-time drunk driving offenders. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Currently 29 states have all-offender ignition interlock laws, which leave 21 that are not doing everything they can to keep repeat DUI offenders off the roads. In those states repeat offenders are claiming new victims, victims who might have been spared had the interlock device been present.

It’s vital that those states get on board with the national trend and strengthen their drunk driving laws. And we hope they do it soon. It’s sad that we have to wait for a young victim’s name and face to persuade voters to do the right thing and improve safety on the nation’s roads and streets.

One For The Books: California Drunk Driver Backs Into Library

California drunk driver hits libraryIt’s a novel crime. A man suspected of driving drunk backed his VW sedan through the wall of the Downey City Library on Brookshire Avenue in Downey, California. He was booked for DUI and taken into custody.

The man had been arrested earlier on a non-DUI related traffic warrant. This crash, however, occurred after two in the morning. Because the library is down the street from the police station, officers were on the scene quickly.

It’s safe to say that the driver will regret his decision to drive drunk; the California drunk driver does not have an easy time of it. The state has the most drivers by far – some 25 million of them, ten million more than the next most road-happy state, Texas. With that many cars and drivers, managing drunk driving becomes a priority, which is why California was the first state to try out ignition interlocks back in 1986.

Other states grabbed the initiative away from California after that, mandating the interlocks – devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – for all drunk driving offenses. California finally passed an all-offender law, but it doesn’t take effect until 2019. Downey, however, is part of Los Angeles County, which has an all-offender pilot program in place. So it’s safe to say that the driver in question will be using a device soon, if he’s not already.

The reason that California has chosen ignition interlocks as an anti-drunk driving measure is apparent: it was just the wall of a library this time. But it could have been another car, or a family out for a walk. Drunk driving is a reckless crime that takes some ten thousand lives a year.

Drunk drivers are everywhere, backing into fire hydrants, parking meters, car bumpers, mailboxes – and libraries. When they do that, we sometimes have a laugh. When it’s people being harmed, the fun stops.

Want to Save a Life? Ground Your Teen on Saturday Night.

stronger alcohol laws save teen livesMaybe the big killer of teens isn’t drunk driving, or speed, or drugs. Maybe it’s the weekend.

That’s a vast overstatement, but researchers at Boston Medical Center have looked at how young people die on US roads, and have noted some disturbing facts:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the main cause of death for children and teens.
  • Drunk driving contributes to a quarter of all motor vehicle fatalities for children, teens, and young adults. Nearly half of those crashes occur on weekends.

The purpose of the study, published in the online journal Pediatrics, was not to pinpoint weekends as danger zones, but to examine states’ alcohol policies and see if stronger alcohol laws reduced road deaths. The answer is that they do.

More restrictive alcohol policies seem to save the lives of young people. Some of the policies the study looked at were:

  • Laws restricting the hours and days of alcohol sales
  • Administrative license revocation (ALR) for DUI
  • Dram shop laws (holding alcohol vendors responsible for harm resulting from the alcohol sale)
  • False ID laws
  • House party (social host) liability laws
  • Ignition interlock laws
  • Open container laws
  • Zero-tolerance laws for youth

Laws, then, make a difference. In the past couple of years we’ve seen the legislative landscape change as a number of states got serious about drunk driving and passed laws mandating ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders. More social host laws are also in place. In other areas, trends move the other way: no state has recently put private liquor sales under public administration. And in general, states tend to opt for more liberalization, not less, as regards the hours of liquor sales.

Perhaps this research will help fuel efforts to roll back that liberalization and pass stronger alcohol laws.

And as for Saturdays, the lead study author has suggested that limiting teens’ weekend driving hours would help keep them safer. Sometimes the simple solution is the one that works. This one is worth a try.

Drunk Driver Hits 6 Cars and a House. No, It’s Not a Record.

drunk driving crashes in WisconsinIt should be come kind of record. A drunk driver was speeding south on Bellevue Street in Green Bay, Wisconsin in the wee hours of the morning. The 28-year-old man managed to crash into a car and hit 5 more before encountering a house, which brought him to a stop.

The driver ran away, and was later arrested in his home and booked for OWI.

Six cars might seem like a pretty formidable amount of damage, but in the world of drunk driving crashes, it’s an honorable mention at best. The record, as far as we can tell, goes to a Czech police officer who sideswiped 51 parked cars before being apprehended by his colleagues.

The point is not a lot of cars were messed up, though they were. Nor is it that no one was hurt – the only true accident in the story. It’s that alcohol changes a person’s faculties and personality so much that a man could hit cars and keep on driving, only to hit a house and then believe that he could somehow make it go away by running home.

These actions are crazy, because drinking can make you crazy – or at least, can make you do crazy things behind the wheel. That’s why drunk driving crashes kill about 10,000 people every year.

Those six cars could easily have been six people – if you can’t see a parked SUV, you can’t see a child in the road either.

Wisconsin seems to provide the country with more than its share of drunk drivers, thanks to notoriously lax OWI laws. First offenders get off lightly if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is lower than .15. 29 other states mandate an ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, for any drunk driving violation.

So no, six cars is no big deal. But drunk driving crashes are, and the sooner Wisconsin legislators take action with an all-offender ignition interlock law, the safer the state’s roads will be

Jim Ott is Back in the Fight for Wisconsin Ignition Interlock Laws

Jim Ott fighting for Wisconsin Ignition Interlock laws

It was back in 2013 that Representative Jim Ott (R-Mequon) first introduced a bill to make life harder for drunk driving offenders. He fought well, but the measure was defeated by a force stronger than most drunk driving legislation: Wisconsin. The state is notorious for being lenient on people who choose to drink and drive.

The state is known for an easygoing drinking culture, and OWI laws are regularly opposed by the Tavern League, which protects the interests of alcohol sellers and works to weaken Wisconsin ignition interlock laws.

Last time, Rep. Ott wanted to make all OWI offenders appear in court, something which is considered unremarkable in other states, but which goes against the Wisconsin tradition of letting first offenders off with a wrist slap.

This time Ott has introduced a bill to increase minimum sentences for OWI homicide and 5th and 6th offenses. But the more ambitious measure is one to close a loophole in Wisconsin’s ignition interlock laws.

At present, compliance is low. Too many people are ordered to use an ignition interlock – a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – but don’t get it installed. This means that they don’t have a valid driver’s license, but when they’re stopped by police, they’ll be charged with unlicensed driving. Ott very reasonably wants there to be a charge for driving without an interlock as well.

Fingers crossed for this excellent change to Wisconsin ignition interlock laws. Passing it would take dangerous unlicensed, uninsured drunk drivers off the road, which is a good thing for everyone. No doubt the army of opponents are gathering and finding ways to shoot down this anti-drunk-driving law, as they have shot down so many. Wisconsinites who are concerned about safer roads – and safer drivers, passengers, and pedestrians – should support Jim Ott and work to get these bills passed.

Dear. St. Patrick: You Got Rid of Snakes. How About Drunk Drivers?

St. Patrick's Day Drunk DriversThere’s a legend that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. It’s not hard to figure out how that story got started. Ireland doesn’t have any snakes; therefore, its patron saint and greatest hero must be responsible.

Thou Ireland is not bothered by snakes (or blessed by them, if you happen to be a fan of snakes), it is plagued by alcohol. The Irish drink more per capita than the average European –in fact, according to the WHO, only three countries drink more than Ireland. Another organization found that three quarters of the alcohol consumed within a year in Ireland was drunk as part of a binge drinking session.

While the United States does not have quite the same struggle with alcohol, it does have a problem with St. Patrick’s Day. March 17th is considered a day in which it’s all right to get drunk, and too many of those revelers end up driving and causing mayhem on the roads.

Of all the ways in which the Irish stand out – their fabled love of words and conversation, friendliness, passionate nature, loyalty, even love of potatoes – Americans have chosen to imitate the trait that causes Ireland the most problems. And they’ve made that choice into a problem that everyone on the road faces on St. Patrick’s Day.

If you don’t want to be anyone’s problem on March 17th, follow these rules:

  • Designate a driver
  • Be a designated driver
  • Take a taxi, rideshare or public transit
  • Arrange for a friend to pick you up

And of course, watch out for impaired drivers when on the road that day. The police will be doing that as well.

Oh, and if you find a prayer to St. Patrick that will get banish St. Patrick’s Day drunk drivers, by all means put it into action. If Ireland can do without snakes, we could probably manage without drunk drivers. But keep your taxi number handy just in case.

MADD Report: Ignition Interlocks Stopped 2.3 Million Drunk Driving Incidents

MADD report ignition interlocks workIt’s been a decade now that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has been pressing states to adopt ignition interlocks as a measure to prevent drunk drivers from repeating their crime. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Last year MADD released a report with the astonishing news that ignition interlocks had stopped 1.77 million instances of impaired driving nationwide. That’s 1.77 journeys that could have ended disastrously for the drivers, their passengers, other drivers or pedestrians.

MADD has kept on studying the devices, and the organization has just released a new report with more information supporting ignition interlocks, and a new total: in the last decade the devices have stopped 2.3 million attempts to drive drunk.

The reason MADD is releasing this new report, which lists state-by-state-data on vehicle starts prevented by ignition interlocks, is to reinforce the idea that every state needs to mandate the devices for all drunk driving offenses.

The Key: All-Offender Ignition Interlock Laws

There is a tendency for some lawmakers to back off on ignition interlock laws. They propose to mandate the devices only for second offenders, or for high-BAC (blood alcohol concentration) offenders, or to leave the matter of interlocks entirely to the judge’s discretion.

MADD and other organizations – the California DMV, NTSB, and NHTSA are cited in the report, along with some university studies –are in favor of ordering ignition interlocks for first drunk driving offenses at all BAC levels, as well as repeat offenses. Applying interlock programs to all offenders results in a lower rate of alcohol-related crashes and fatalities.

More and more states are passing such all-offender interlock laws. The purpose of the report is to convince the holdout states that their citizens also deserve safer roads, and interlocks are the way to  do it.

If you’re not inclined to believe that ignition interlocks are the answer, read the report, and judge the evidence for yourself. Then please, get on board with the public-spirited people who are helping states adopt this life-saving technology.

Student Magician Juggles for Police, Passes Sobriety Test

Your Hump-day Recess:

The field sobriety test can be daunting even to the sober. Plenty of people without a drop of liquor in them would still have a hard time walking a straight line and pivoting 180 degrees. But the FST is a standard measure police use to suss out whether a person has been drinking and driving. Many people pass it, but few ace it the way this man did.

A student at the University of Central Arkansas was stopped on a Friday night for having a brake light out. Because it was a Friday night, and a student at the wheel, it made sense to check for signs of impairment. But this student was not only in possession of all his faculties, he was also a juggler, and he treated the police to a demonstration to show that he was sober as a judge.

This is probably a good a time as any to remind people that police in every state have a wide margin of discretion with regard to stopping people. Any form of erratic driving will get a cop’s attention, for the very good reason that drunk drivers make mistakes, so mistakes can indicate drunk driving. The next step is to talk to the driver and look for signs of impairment. Any suspicion, and the officer will perform the FST. If the motorist fails the sobriety test, or if the officer feels it’s otherwise justified (say, the odor of alcohol is present), then the next step is a a breathalyzer. But even that is not conclusive: courts will usually require a properly-administered blood, breath or urine test to prove that the driver was operating the vehicle under the influence.

In this case, the driver was let go. Depending on your level of intoxication and/or juggling skills, you might not be so lucky.

Your Hump Day Recess: Every Wednesday LifeSafer brings you something a little different, related to the worlds of road safety, to ease your progress over Hump Day and through the week.
Previous Hump Days: a German Ignition Interlock spoof from 1960, our Top 10 Worst Crash Tests, a different kind of Anti-DUI message, Budweiser’s dogged anti-DUI campaign, How Not to Dodge a Parking Ticket, the world’s worst traffic jams, a dramatic buzzed driving PSA , an offbeat ad from New ZealandVince and Larry, our favorite crash test dummies, some excellent Soviet anti-drunk-driving posters, a lesson on how buzzed driving can ruin your love life, South Australia to Drunk Drivers: Grow Up!, a woman calls 911 to report herself for DUI, Felix the Cat and Drunk Driving,  DUIs who crash vintage cars – (ouch!), Woman Unwittingly Creates Self-Driving Car, A Brilliant PSA from Australia, a Road Safety Message in a Vodka Bottle, a PSA about binge drinking that is decidedly “meh,” Drunk Driver Crashes $4 Million Car, Drunk Driving in 1910, a Superb New Think! PSA from the UK,Drunk Driving in 1955: New Breath Test Technology Will Save the Day!, the Best Animated Gifs About Drunk Driving, Angle Parking: A Surreal DUI Stop Photo, a Hertz Advertisement that Could Have Used Another Set of Eyes, a Laugh Out Loud Anti-Drunk Driving Ad, How to Beat a Breathalyzer with Peanut Butter … Not!Who Knew? GM Invented the DUI Ignition Interlock in 1970 and a Colorado drunk driving prank reveals a shocking truth.