Those who have ever had cause to look up drunk driving laws know that across the U.S., the rule is that any BAC 0.08 percent or higher is trouble. That’s because every state has laws setting 0.08 percent BAC at the level of legal intoxication. Except for rare cases, like young drivers under 21 or commercial vehicle operators, everyone else just needs to keep their blood alcohol concentration below 0.08 to stay on the right side of the law. As of now, that’s no longer the case.
What changed? Late last month the governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, signed a new law lowering the state’s threshold for drunk driving. The decision is an important one, not only because it could have an impact on tourism in Utah, but because the law makes Utah the strictest in the country in terms of legal intoxication limits.
The new measure says that the BAC limit for most drivers in Utah will now drop from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent. The goal, according to advocates of the change, is to save lives, both of drivers and those innocent commuters on the roadways. Advocates for change argue that the law sends a message to drivers that no one should drink and get behind the wheel, even if the person consumes only a relatively small amount of alcohol.
Critics of the measure, of which there are many, claim that the law is religiously based, given that Mormons (which make up a huge voting bloc in Utah) don’t consume alcohol. The tourism industry, including restaurants, hotels and ski lodges, are terrified that the new rule will make Utah seem uninviting, scaring away the tens of thousands of people who vacation in the state each year. In fact, one group took out ads in Salk Lake City’s daily newspaper with the troubling tagline: “Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation.”
Those opposed to the new law say that it’s aimed at punishing those who are trying to be responsible while consuming alcohol. Rather than targeting repeat offenders or truly dangerous alcoholics, this targets those whose BAC would normally have been perfectly fine. Experts say that the new law means that a 150-pound man would be over the limit after consuming only two beers, while a 120-pound woman could be declared legally intoxicated after a single drink.
The arguments against the law didn’t seem to have much of an impact, as the legislature and governor moved forward anyway. The law is set to get into effect on December 30, 2018, giving drivers in Utah time to adjust. One group that cheered the news is the National Transportation Safety Board, which has definitely promoted states to drop their BAC to 0.05 or lower, so far to no success. The hope is that Utah’s actions pave the way for others, something that has already happened once before. That’s because back in 1983, Utah was the first state to lower its BAC limit to 0.08 from 0.10, a trend that eventually caught on.
Source: “Utah getting toughest drunken driving limit in the US,” by Michelle Price, published at StarTribune.com.