Utah Keeps .05 Limit But Gets the Jitters Anyway
A while back Utah became the first state to lower its legal DUI blood alcohol limit to .05 from .08. In theory, that means that it would be a little easier to be arrested for drunk driving, and people would have to be extra careful when going out for a night on the town.
In practice – though the law hasn’t even taken effect yet – it means that alcohol sellers are up in arms, preaching Armageddon for the state’s hospitality industry. They’ve made what should be a slight adjustment in police and legal procedure into a major upheaval which is scaring lawmakers into backpedaling on their anti-drunk driving efforts.
Not everyone has succumbed to the vapors. The Utah Substance Use and Mental Health Advisory Council voted to support the lowering of the legal limit. That goes against the wishes of governor Gary Herbert, who has suggested lesser penalties for those convicted in the .05 to .07 range.
Is There a Lesser DUI?
Truth be told, there is precedent for lower penalties below .08, albeit not in the USA. But Ontario, Canada has what is called a “warn range.” Those arrested with a BAC between .05 and .08 are fined and endure a short license suspension, but they are not subject to criminal prosecution.
Who is Behind the Objections?
Some people are worried that the lower blood alcohol limit will confirm the image of Utah has an anti-partying killjoy state run by people who disapprove of drinking. Spokespeople for the tourism industry have expressed concern that people will prefer to visit Colorado so they can enjoy a vacation without risking a DUI.
That’s all nonsense, though. As we’ve said before, people don’t plan their vacations around drunk driving. Behind the objections to the .05 limit are those who make money through sales of alcohol. That faction includes not just bars but restaurants as well, since alcohol is a major part of restaurant profits.
By all means, impose an easier penalty on the .05 to .07 range. One DUI study group suggested a stiff fine, a 90-day suspension, and a mandatory use of an ignition interlock for one year. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
That’s not a bad idea, though it would be better to skip the suspension and just go straight to the interlock, which would help ensure that the driver does not drive again while impaired.
Our advice to Utah: relax, take a chill pill, pass the law and see how it does. If Utah’s tourism industry crumbles to dust (an event we think is unlikely) the state can change directions and raise the blood alcohol limit. But if lives are saved, then Utah legislators were right, and other states should follow suit.
We’re looking forward to a bold experiment in public safety. No sense getting cold feet now.