UTAH: Is Lowering the BAC Limit to .05 a Good Idea?

lower BAC limit for Utah?A Utah legislator wants to lower the state’s legal blood alcohol limit from .08 – the national standard – to .05. Representative Norman Thurston plans to sponsor a bill in the next legislative session, with a view to lowering the number of alcohol-related fatalities on the state’s roads.

It’s a long road to passage, but if it did go through, the law would make Utah’s the strictest standard in the country. No other state has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit below .08.

It’s no surprise that Utah was the first state to see such a proposal. With its large Mormon population that avoids drinking alcohol, Utah has the lowers drunk driving numbers in the country. Rep. Thurston believes that lowering the limit would bring those numbers down even further.

Thurston has allies. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been pushing for a lower limit for a few years now.

He also has opponents. Some cite the objections noted below. Others, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)

Is a Lower BAC Limit Necessary?

Two schools of thought exist on whether it’s a helpful to lower the legal limit. Proponents will note:

  • A BAC of .05 is still plenty impaired. At that level driving ability is definitely compromised.
  • Many countries around the world have limits lower than .08. Limits of .05(much of Asia and Middle East), .03  (Japan) .02 (much of Europe) are seen more often than.08, which is relatively lenient nowadays.

Opponents of a lowered limit have other concerns:

  • An .05 limit would punish social drinkers who are not inebriated.
  • Most drivers don’t keep track of BAC and wouldn’t know what theirs was anyway.
  • Most crashes involve drivers with higher alcohol levels.

Is .05 the Wave of the Future?

Some safety laws or approaches take root in one or two states and spread throughout the country. Ignition interlocks, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, began with a pilot program in California and are now used throughout the country.

Will the idea of a lower BAC limit spread in the US? It’s doubtful. For one thing, the country had to be browbeaten into accepting the .08 limit by the withholding of highway funds. The standard wasn’t universal here until 2005, when Minnesota became the last of the holdouts to give up a higher BAC limit. Lowering it again would be an extremely hard sell.

Moreover, not everyone is convinced that a lower BAC limit is the best approach. Laws promoting ignition interlocks are one better option: they target repeat offenders, who are over-represented in DUI collisions and deaths. MADD has a list of measures it considers paramount, including no refusal laws and automatic license suspension for those arrested for DUI.

Rep. Thurston wants to hold Utah residents to a higher standard. Even in a state not known for its sympathy toward drunk drivers, it’s a tough row to hoe.