In Utah, ringing in 2019 may include one less call for alcohol.

Just before New Year’s Eve, the state will begin enforcing the strictest drunken-driving regulation in the country when it officially lowers the allowable blood-alcohol content limit to .05. The move comes as the Utah authorities report an average of 30 D.U.I. arrests every day and as states nationwide struggle to prevent the deaths of motorists.

Advocates for the new law, set to go into effect on Dec. 30, say they hope it prompts other states to adopt more restrictive measures, despite fervent opposition from the alcohol industry. Although drunken-driving-related deaths in the United States have steadily declined over the past three decades, around 29 people die every day in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Last year, nearly 11,000 people were killed in crashes involving drunken drivers, accounting for more than a quarter of all vehicle deaths nationwide.

Last year, Utah had the lowest number of alcohol-related traffic deaths of any state, in large part because of heavy restrictions on alcohol consumption, including limits on the strength of beer and a ban on the personal import and transport of alcohol from other states. But driving under the influence continues to be a problem, the Utah authorities said.

“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 on the new law, adding that more than 54,400 people have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol over the last five years.

The department said Utah law enforcement agencies were required to complete refresher training on field sobriety testing as part of the new measure, which was signed into law last year.

All other states maintain a .08 percent blood alcohol limit for noncommercial drivers over the age of 21, a national standard set by Congress in 2000, though the National Transportation Safety Board has for years pushed for stricter legal standards, arguing that a .05 limit or lower would save almost 1,800 lives each year.

Nearly 100 countries with a maximum .05 blood alcohol limit have lower alcohol-related deaths, the organization said, even though their average alcohol consumption is the same or higher than the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 160-pound man can reach a .05 blood alcohol content after consuming about three alcoholic beverages in one hour. That amount is enough to reduce a driver’s coordination and the ability to track moving objects; slow responses to emergency situations on the road; and impair steering. At .08 percent, equal to about four drinks for a 160-pound man or two drinks for a 120-pound woman, drivers usually experience impaired speed control and concentration; memory loss; and a reduced ability to process what they see.

The American Beverage Institute, a trade group that represents restaurants and bars, opposed the Utah law, saying that the measure would do little to save lives.

“Someone with a 0.05 BAC is not meaningfully impaired,” Sarah Longwell, the organization’s managing director, said in a statement earlier this year, adding that the lower legal threshold would “distract” law enforcement.  

Original Outlet: The New York Times
In Depth on the Issue

Lowering the Blood-Alcohol Arrest Level

ABI strongly opposes lowering the blood-alcohol arrest level. The move is an attack on the restaurant and hospitality industries and converts responsible consumers into criminals. Don’t allow your state legislature or municipality to be fooled by a false narrative linking a lower BAC arrest threshold with increased traffic safety. Stand…
More on Lowering the Blood-Alcohol Arrest Level →

Get ABI Email Updates

Sign up and get updates on the critical updates on alcohol policy that affect your business.