Just in time for April’s Alcohol Awareness Month, Utah legislators have just signed a new bill lowering the legal blood alcohol content down to 0.05%.
And although many see the legislation as a step towards safer and more sober driving in the state, others are condemning the new law as harsh and unnecessary. What’s more, opponents say it might cause more people to be incarcerated for a crime that ultimately posed no threat to the safety of others.
While the long-term effects still remain to be seen, Utah has still officially become the very first state to lower their DUI limit to 0.05%.
Specifics of the New Legislation
The new bill that has many citizens in an uproar was passed by state lawmakers in Utah on March 8, 2017. The bill, technically known as House Bill 155, was sponsored and brought to the senate by Rep. Norman Thurston and passed with an 18 to 11 vote.
Despite much debate over the pros and cons of passing such a bill, it eventually made its way to Governor Gary Herbert’s desk and was officially passed on March 23rd, though the law itself doesn’t actually go into effect until December 30, 2018. Though the effective date is noticeably close to New Year’s (not a coincidence), it’s still quite a ways off.
Governor Herbert commented that despite supporting the bill, there are still a few areas where it could be improved such as how the state handles repeat offenders as well as what kinds of punishments DUIs carry with them. These types of changes to the bill are, according to Gov. Herbert, “warranted and are necessary.”
One item worth noting that many sources either aren’t talking about or simply weren’t aware of at first is the fact that the change in legal levels of blood alcohol content (BAC) also apply to gun owners as well. The new law would, in effect, also lower the legal BAC required in order to open carry a firearm.
Although Utah has historically had noticeably lower drunk-driving numbers than many U.S. states, the bill is being heralded as a strong and noble stance against the devastating effects of driving impaired.
The Pros and the Cons
Just like any major piece of legislation that delves into what citizens can and cannot do with their bodies, the new Utah bill to reduce the legal BAC limit has been met with both enthusiastic approval and vehement criticism.
On the one hand, lowering the blood alcohol content limit for DUIs seems to be an obvious benefit to everyone on the road. Driving itself can be an incredibly dangerous experience and is responsible for almost 34,000 deaths in 2014 alone. When you add the concentration and coordination impairing effects of being intoxicated to the matter, it gets even more dangerous.
What’s more, if there are any steps which can be taken that reduce the likelihood of unnecessary and entirely avoidable deaths at all, doesn’t a government have the responsibility to take such steps? Just look at the thousands of innocent families that are shattered every year because a family member was the victim of drunk driving.
On the other hand, some opponents of the bill believe the new limit will reduce tourism and encroaches on personal rights. To add to that, they claim that lowering the BAC limit won’t have any effect since drivers really aren’t impaired until they reach the 0.08% limit. And they may be right – the CDC states that more research needs to be done on this subject before it can determine conclusively that such a change will accomplish anything at all.
The National Transportation Safety Board, however, has long been a proponent of lowering the BAC limit to 0.05%. They point to numerous studies that support the fact that impairment begins with the first drink. So even if you consider yourself to be a high functioning alcoholic, your driving ability is likely still altered after a single drink.
What’s more the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the World Medical Association, and the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine have all advocated for a BAC limit of 0.05%. Plus, 100 other countries have also adopted the regulation.
A Brief Education on DUIs in the United States
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that every single passing day carries with it the death of 28 United States citizens due to motor vehicle crashes involving at least one driver impaired by the effects of alcohol. That’s one death every 53 minutes.
And while there are certainly reasonable pros and cons to both sides of the argument, it’s worth understanding that drunk driving is not only a serious problem with potentially fatal repercussions, it’s also a cause of death that is entirely preventable. What’s more, the fatalities involved include sober victims, not just the drunk drivers themselves.
Here are a few more statistics to put this problem into perspective:
- 2014 saw 9,967 deaths attributed to alcoholically impaired driving. These deaths made up almost one third of all U.S. traffic-related fatalities for that year.
- That same year, 1,070 children died due to traffic-related deaths, almost 20% of which (209) were caused by an impaired driver.
- Even more alarming is the fact that of those 209 child deaths, more than half of these children were being driven by the impaired driver.
- There were about 1.1 million drivers arrested for drunk driving in 2014. When you compare that to the 121 million episodes of self-reported (meaning there were likely much more) drunk driving, that’s a mere 1%.
Long-Term Effects of a Lower BAC Limit Remain to Be Seen
While the verdict is still out on whether Utah’s change in legislation will actually curb drunk driving fatalities or crashes, one thing doesn’t change about alcohol abuse – confronting your addiction before it spirals out of control is easier the sooner you do it.
No matter what kind of alcoholic you may be, you don’t have to wait until the law gets involved to turn your life around.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2017 Jan.). Impaired Driving: Get the Facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2017 March). National Center for Health Statistics: All Injuries. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/injury.htm
Chappell, Bill (2017 March). Utah Cuts DUI Alcohol Limit to Lowest Level in U.S.; Law Also Affects Gun Owners. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/24/521356512/utah-cuts-dui-alcohol-limit-to-lowest-level-in-u-s-law-also-affects-gun-owners
National Transportation Safety Board (2013 May). Safety Report on Eliminating Impaired Driving – Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Pages/2013_Impaired_Driving_BMG-FAQs.aspx
Winslow, B., Roth, M. (2017 March). Utah to Become First State to Lower DUI Level to .05. Retrieved from http://fox13now.com/2017/03/08/utah-will-become-the-first-state-to-lower-the-dui-rate-to-05/