Why Utah Struggles with the .05 Alcohol Limit. And Why It Matters.

.05 alcohol limit signA while back Utah decided to be in the vanguard of the anti-drunk driving effort in the US, by lowering its legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit to .05 from the national standard of .08.

It hasn’t gone into effect yet, but the Utah .05 limit law did set off a surprising amount of controversy.

Some of the squabbles were predictable. Many bars, restaurants and resorts, egged on by alcohol lobbyists, protested that they would lose business because people would drink less before driving home. Like that was a bad thing.

There were others who worried that too many people would be arrested, because it takes a surprisingly small amount of booze to get even a good-sized adult past the .05 BAC mark. These people generally think that driving at the .05 level is not dangerous.

Recently Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Ogden, proposed reducing the DUI penalty for an .05 arrest to something akin to a speeding ticket. Other legislators are not so sure, but it appears that compromise is in the air. At this point, scrapping the .05 law would be tantamount to admitting that driving at .05 is permissible.

Proposal: How Ontario, Canada Handles .05 BAC Drivers

There is precedent for dealing with an .05 to .07 DUI. In Ontario, Canada it’s called the “warn range.” Drivers caught with a blood alcohol level in that range face administrative penalties – not criminal ones. They face an automatic fine and 3-day license suspension. Subsequent offenses in the warn rage attract stiffer penalites.

Note: these penalties are automatic and cannot be appealed. In Utah, they would be imposed by the DMV rather than the courts. The advantage is that it doesn’t burden the court system, and the consequences are swift but not crippling.

What This Means to Non-Utahns

Whatever solution is adopted, if Utah sees good results from it, you can expect other states to follow through – eventually. Many countries in Europe and elsewhere have legal BAC limits lower than .08, so Utah is not an outlier in the big picture.

For the time being. 08 will remain the limit in the land. But as Americans continue to get fed up with the number of needless deaths each year due to drunk driving, they might eventually turn to lower limits as a way to fight this pervasive crime.