Drivers in Utah now face potential drunk driving charges if they are stopped and their blood-alcohol concentration is 0.05 percent or higher—the lowest threshold for drunk driving in the nation. When the new law went into effect December 30, 2018, Utah became the first state to lower its DUI limit below .08 BAC, which is the standard nationwide. The question now is whether other states will follow suit.
Supporters of the new DUI law said it would save lives and expressed hope that other states would lower their blood alcohol arrest levels. But the move to .05 BAC in Utah has drawn opposition as well.
Utah state Rep. Norm Thurston sponsored the bill to lower the BAC limit at the request of the National Transportation Safety Board, according to National Public Radio.
Still, the current limit of .08 is “a significant amount of drinking” for a lot of people
The National Transportation Safety Board has long recommended that states across the nation adopt tighter allowable blood alcohol levels to curb drunk driving accidents. Thurston said he believes the new limit will save lives because it sends a strict message to anyone who has been drinking to not get behind the wheel.
But the American Beverage Institute (ABI), a trade group for restaurants and other on-premises alcohol retailers, opposes the reduction to 0.05 BAC. It said the lower blood alcohol arrest level would ensnare moderate and responsible drinkers and do little to address the drunk drivers who cause most accidents. The ABI argues that about 70 percent of alcohol-related traffic fatalities involve a driver with much high blood alcohol levels of 0.15 or above and only 2 percent of traffic fatalities involve a driver with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08.
Tighter Utah DUI Law: A single state decision or a nationwide trend?
The long-term trend across the U.S. has been tighter DUI laws. For decades, the limit was .15 BAC. Over time, states tightened their limits to .10 BAC as public awareness of the dangers of drunk driving spread. Utah was the first state to lower its DUI limit from .10 percent BAC to .08 percent. By 2004, all states had adopted a .08 percent BAC limit.
Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, predicted that Utah’s lower limit would not prompt other states to revise their laws in the immediate future. But Adkins said if the lower limit proved to have an impact on drunk driving in Utah, then it was certainly possible that other states might pass similar measures eventually.
Will Indiana, Other States Lower BAC Limits?
While it’s hard to gauge what might happen during the legislative sessions in 2019, there are few indications of states being ready to match Utah’s change.
For example, Indiana just made Sunday carryout alcohol sales legal a year ago, arguably a move in the opposite direction of tighter restrictions on drinkers.
Former Indiana State Sen. Tom Wyss is on the record advocating a change to the 0.05 BAC, but he acknowledged that the law won’t change until more people understand that drinkers are impaired with a blood alcohol content of 0.05. He also says constituents will have to apply greater pressure on state lawmakers to make the change, according to WIBC FM in Indianapolis.
Wyss recalled the tremendous effort to change from 0.10 BAC to 0.08 in Indiana, which occurred in 2001. “It took 11 years of constant badgering and coming back with the legislation to get the legislators to even move to the 0.08,” he told WISH TV in Indianapolis.
In October, a national poll by the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute found that 54 percent of Americans wanted to lower the DUI alcohol limit from .08 to .05.
How Many Drinks Equal a 0.05 BAC?
BAC is not a “one size fits all” matter. Part of the argument against lower legal BAC limits is that at 0.05 BAC, many people, especially larger men, are not likely to be impaired. Body weight and gender affect the amount of alcohol a person can consume before being intoxicated.
The American Beverage Institute said a 120-pound woman will hit 0.05 after having little more than a single drink and a 160-pound man would be considered legally drunk after two. But a 240-pound man would require three drinks to reach the limit.
A standard “drink,” according to the National Institutes of Health, “is defined as any beverage containing 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol (also known as an alcoholic drink-equivalent).” More commonly, it is one 12-ounce beer, or 8 – 9 ounces of malt liquor, or 5 ounces of table wine, or 3 – 4 ounces of fortified wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor, with or without mixer. But the alcohol content of beers differs, as does how drinks are poured in a restaurant or bar.
BAC, Impairment and Drunk Driving in Indianapolis
Certainly, it is too soon to see what effect Utah’s new BAC standard will have on drunk driving in the state. The Utah Highway Patrol told the Salt Lake Tribune that of eight drivers arrested for DUI on December 30, the Utah 0.05 BAC law’s effective date, all eight suspects registered blood-alcohol concentration levels above 0.08 percent, the previous threshold for legal impairment. Only one case involved an accident.
Col. Michael Rapich, a Highway Patrol trooper and deputy commissioner of Utah’s Department of Public Safety, said that arrests are made on the basis of impairment as judged after putting suspect drivers through a battery of field sobriety tests, including a breath test. If a driver fails those tests, Rapich said, an arrest is made. “If there’s no identifiable impairment,” he said, “no arrest is made.”
Could a New Indiana Alcohol Limit Decrease DUI Accidents?
In Texas, Weatherford Police Chief Lance Arnold is a former Drug Recognition Expert instructor and Standardized Field Sobriety Tests instructor with specific expertise in the area of BAC. Arnold said the issue is really one of impairment and inability to operate a motor vehicle safely, regardless of the BAC limits. He said he had conducted hundreds of alcohol workshops while training police officers in field sobriety testing. “I have seen people be impaired at .04 and I have seen people not be impaired at .08,” he said. “The problem really is two-fold. A blood or breath alcohol concentration is a very objective number.”
Drunk driving contributes to a significant portion of traffic accidents in Indiana and across the nation. These are preventable accidents caused by a driver’s poor decision to drive and then get behind the wheel.
In Indiana, the car accident attorneys at Craig, Kelley & Faultless, LLC assist the people harmed by drunk drivers. Our attorneys work hard to hold accountable those responsible for motor vehicle accidents.