Utah is set to become the state with the strictest limit for alcohol consumption before driving, dropping the standard for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) from the nationwide standard of .08 to .05.
The new law is slated to take effect on Dec. 30 — before New Years celebrations begin — in an effort to reduce the number of drunken driving-related deaths, The Washington Post reported Friday.
The nationwide .08 was set by former President Clinton in 2000.
Utah’s new law also states those who have that BAC and “operates a motor vehicle in a negligent manner causing the death of another” will have committed felony automobile homicide.
“I don’t anticipate other states immediately following,” Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, told the Post. “If it turns out this has been successful and is having an impact on drunk driving, it’s certainly possible that other states will follow.”
Drunken driving poses a serious danger across the country, with nearly one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities involving alcohol-impaired drivers in 2017.
Utah had the lowest number of traffic deaths involving alcohol-impaired drivers of any state, about 19 percent, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“Despite decades of public campaigns and other efforts to discourage driving after drinking, survey and observational data show that many people continue to do so,” the Utah Department of Public Safety said in a statement. “Over the last five years, there were 54,402 arrests for DUI in Utah, which represents an average of 29.8 per day.”
Critics of the law say it will punish responsible drivers.
The American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade organization which opposed the law, said the state should focus on those driving with much higher blood alcohol levels and “and repeat drunk driving offenders responsible for the vast majority of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.”
“I have no doubt that proponents of .05 laws are well-intentioned, but good intentions don’t necessarily yield good public policy,” spokesperson Jackson Shedelbower said in a statement this week.
The measure was signed into law last year by Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R). He told the Salt Lake Tribune at the time that the measure was not meant to harass drinkers.
“If you are weaving back and forth on the road, a policeman will pull you over. They will then do a field sobriety test,” Herbert said.
Only those who fail the sobriety test will have their BAC tested.
“That’s the mandate to law enforcement. You see someone driving impaired, you pull them over,” the governor added. “We’re not saying people can’t drink. You can certainly access a drink, and you can drink until your eyes bug out if you want. We’re just saying don’t drive and drink.”