People in Utah may think twice about having that extra drink before driving home from their New Year’s Eve parties.
Starting Sunday, the state will lower its blood alcohol content limit to 0.05, the strictest DUI standard in the nation.
The new law also states that anyone who “operates a motor vehicle in a negligent manner causing the death of another” and has a “blood alcohol concentration of .05 grams or greater” will have committed a criminal homicide, a felony.
The state said it’s seen an average of 29.8 DUI arrests every day for the last five years, or more than 54,400 arrests.
“Despite decades of public campaigns and other efforts to discourage driving after drinking, survey and observational data show many people continue to do so,” Utah’s Department of Public Safety said.
All other states continue to hold a 0.08 limit for noncommercial drivers over the age of 21, a level the National Transportation Safety Board has been pushing to lower for years.
“We’ve recommended a 0.05 (blood alcohol content) to states since 2013, and we are happy that Utah is the first to actually complete this recommendation,” NTSB member Bella Dinh-Zarr said. “We think it will be a great incentive for other states and an encouragement to follow suit.”
She said close to 100 countries with such a law experience a lower rate of alcohol-related deaths, even though their citizens drink as much alcohol per capita as Americans.
Drunken-driving fatalities in the United States have decreased by a third over the past 30 years, but almost 29 people still die each day from alcohol-related crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In 2016, the latest year for which that agency has available data, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes – making up 28% of all motor vehicle fatalities.
‘A broad deterrent’ to drinking and driving
In a statement earlier this year, American Beverage Institute Managing Director Sarah Longwell opposed the legislation, adding that a 0.05 blood alcohol content does not leave drivers “meaningfully impaired.”
“Making such a threshold the legal standard will only distract law enforcement from the most dangerous high-BAC offenders on the road,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate a level of 0.05% is equal to about three alcoholic drinks for an average-size man. At those levels, the CDC says, drivers usually experience reduced coordination, difficulty steering, reduced ability to track moving objects and a slower response to emergency driving situations.
At .08%, or about four drinks in, drivers’ concentration, memory, speed control, perception and ability to process visuals and signals are all impaired.
The NTSB’s Dinh-Zarr said the new Utah law likely will make people think carefully about driving while impaired.
“This is a broad deterrent, it stops all people from all levels of drinking from getting behind the wheel,” she said. “It’s an encouragement for making the right decision so they don’t hurt themselves or someone else.”
Those who are concerned about drunken drivers should be the loudest supporters of similar legislation across the country, Dinh-Zarr added.
“It truly saves lives … just by separating drinking from driving,” she said, estimating that up to 1,500 lives across the country could be saved each year if all states adopted a 0.05 blood alcohol content law.