Utah is now one signature away from becoming the first state in the country to have a BAC of .05 limit for automatic DUI (per se), slightly more than half the current limit of .08. On March 8th, having been previously passed in the Utah House on a vote of 48 – 26, the Utah Senate passed House Bill 155 on a vote of 18 – 11. Governor Herbert has already announced he supports the legislation, and may sign it into law any day now. The fact that both Ski Utah and the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association are encouraging a veto of the bill is of little surprise, but other facts and opponents may be as well.
So what does this legislation mean to responsible consumers of alcohol in the State of Utah? Well, it might mean effectively you can’t drink and drive at all, especially if you’re a woman. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) blood alcohol content (BAC) tables, a 160-pound man who consumes just two glasses of wine in one hour and then drives could be breaking the .05 DUI law. A 100-pound woman who consumed even a single glass of wine over the course of an entire hour could also have a BAC of .05 and be in violation of the newly passed legislation when she drives. Therefore, in the State of Utah, even though she is over the age 21, no woman 100 pounds or less will be able to lawfully drink even a single glass of wine in an hour and drive in the State of Utah.
Contrary to what one would assume, Utah’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) does not support this law either. Art Brown, President of Utah MADD, told Fox News that his organization would not support the reduction of the State’s DUI Limit to .05 because, as he states, “MADD’s position is we really emphasize [ignition] interlocks and getting those on people, and staying .08.” MADD’s focus is on reducing DUI-related fatalities and not on criminalizing alcohol consumption.
This position by MADD makes good sense. Law enforcement resources are a zero sum game. Every hour that a Utah law enforcement officer spends on the investigation, arrest, and booking of a driver at a .05 BAC is an hour not spent on a higher BAC individual who is much more likely to actually cause a fatal accident. Statistics clearly support MADD’s decision to oppose the lowering of the BAC to .05. In a statement to Fox 13, American Beverage Institute Managing Director Sarah Longwell stated, “Over 77 percent of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Utah are caused by people with BACs of .15 and above, and the average BAC of someone in a fatal crash is .20–well over twice the [current] legal limit.”
In fact, even at the current limit of .08, DUI is not the leading cause of automobile fatalities. According to the Utah State Department of Public Safety, in 2016 there were 280 deaths from accidents: 99 due to excessive speed, 80 for not wearing seat belts, and only 25 (or approximately 9%) from DUI. Interestingly, Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said any amount of alcohol can contribute to impairment and suggested that lowering the legal limit from .08 to .05 percent could save as many as 63 lives in Utah each year.With the State Department of Public Safety reporting the total number of all deaths from DUI last year at 25, 63 lives being saved by reducing the DUI level to .05 may be the ultimate Alternative Fact. No one supports driving under the influence, but this supposed attempt to enhance public safety is clearly misguided and seems more to be a war on alcohol than a public safety effort. Governor Herbert should veto this bill.