The legal limit used to be a .08 in the vast majority of states. That is, a driver is presumed to be a drunk driver if their bodily alcohol content is at or above a .08 per 210 liters of breath. The move to lower the legal limit to a .08 across the country began in the 1980s and continued until nearly all states enacted the limit by the early 2000s.
Now, the State of Utah is taking it a step further. They’ve enacted the lowest legal limit in the country. The .05 legal limit is set to take effect in 2018. Authorities say that a person can be over the legal limit after as few as just two drinks.
Utah lawmakers say that they’re basing the change on recommendations from federal traffic safety experts. They say that data shows a person’s ability to drive is influenced at as low as a .05. Others say that severe alcoholics that can drink to very high bodily alcohol levels are the drivers who cause most of the actual crashes and fatalities, so the law change is inappropriate.
Consumer groups say that they worry about what the law might do for tourism. They worry that large conference groups are likely to look for other locations because of the law. They worry that families and solo travelers might choose other places for personal vacations because of the change.
Lawmakers are reviewing the changes again to see if they want to make any changes before the law goes into effect. One of the things on the table is the possibility of reduced penalties for lower alcohol levels. Lawmakers also say they want to make sure that collateral consequences such as a driver’s license suspension that typically accompanies a conviction are proportional to the crime.
Utah Highway Patrol Capt. Steve Winward says that there are some that benefit from the new law. He says that ride-sharing services have seen a spike in traffic because many already believe the law is in place. He says that this is a sign that the law is helping drivers make responsible choices.
Legislators say the end goal is to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road. They hope to do that in a way that doesn’t unfairly restrict freedoms or unnecessarily punish drivers. However, they say they’re serious about taking steps to make the roads as safe as possible. If there aren’t any changes, the law goes into effect as written in 2018.