Close Call in Utah: Haters Won’t Delay New .05 Alcohol Limit

Semi Truck Turning - RE: DUI Laws in UtahAs soon as the Utah legislature began debating lowering the legal blood alcohol limit from .08 to .05, the opposition sprang into action. Bar and restaurant owners predicted instant impoverishment. The alcohol lobby insisted that vacationers would skip Utah and head to Colorado instead, because a family vacation without intoxication is like a day without oxygen.

Presumably spurred on by these irrational fears, a Utah lawmaker sponsored a bill to put the brakes on the change, which is scheduled for the end of the year. The idea is to get more time to “figure out” how to do it right.

Fortunately, fear lost out to good sense, and the delaying measure shriveled up on the last day of February. The limit is set to go to .05 in 2019.

Why the Lower BAC Limit?

The US has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08. At that level, you are legally intoxicated. The Federal Government does not mandate that level – states comply with it willingly, and highway funds are the incentive. The lower level is one of many reasons that alcohol-related crashes have gone down in this country over the years.

So why lower it more? Quick answer: there is nothing magic about .08. It was chosen as a reasonable number that states could get behind back in 1988, when Congress began requiring states to adopt it to qualify for certain grants.

It is not true that there is no impairment below .08. What is true is that everyone whose BAC is at .08 is impaired. In fact, there is impairment below .08, and it is a factor in many road crashes.

For the record, if you are arrested for DUI and your BAC is .06, you can still be convicted of impaired driving.

Many countries have a limit of .05, and others have .03 and 02.

Why Utah Should Stand Fast

By enacting the .05 limit, Utah is starting an experiment that might teach us something about drunk driving in America. A number of experts already support the .05 limit. Suppose the rate of DUI crashes goes down and lives are saved – is that not enough of an endorsement? Or must human lives be balanced continually against alcohol sales?

Other states will be watching Utah, including states whose drunk driving problem is a lot worse than Utah’s. This is an excellent chance to find out if a lower BAC limit will save lives – and if it will sink the hospitality and tourism industry. Something tells us it will do the first and not the last.

Utah should resist the fearmongers and special interests and let this experiment teach us all something.