Americans know Utah for its beautiful mountains and its famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and now it’s famous for having the toughest drunk driving laws in the United States. On March 24, 2017, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed legislation that lowers Utah’s drunk driving legal limit to .05. The state is the first in the country to move the legal limit down to .05 from the .08 limit that exists currently in the rest of the country. The new law doesn’t take effect immediately but instead begins on December 31, 2018.
Tourist and hospitality groups oppose the measure, worried that tourists may take their dollars elsewhere because of the change. Tourism and commerce groups say that they expect a decline in revenue as the new measures may prompt people to avoid alcohol completely. Herbert says that the law isn’t about drinking but rather road safety. Herbert says that the law is simply good public policy. He believes the law is going to save lives.
Legislators expect more fine tuning before the law goes into effect. Among the topics for discussion are what the penalties should be when a person has a blood alcohol level of at least a .05 but lower than a .08. Some say reduced penalties are appropriate in a case like that. Commerce groups want to see the state completely delay implementation of the law until other states follow suit. Both sides say now that the law is official they’re interested to work together to tweak the law’s finer points.
The National Transportation Safety Board has advocated for lowering legal limits for several years. They say that the evidence shows that a person’s ability to drive becomes impaired by alcohol long before they reach .08. They say that by the time a person’s blood alcohol content reaches a .08, their risk of a fatal crash has already doubled.
In the rest of the United States, the legal limit remains .08. However, commercial drivers in most states face a lower drunk driving limit. For these drivers, stiffer penalties for drunk driving and a lower legal limit are already the norm.
Governor Herbert dismisses those who call the measure religiously motivated. He points to Rome as another location that uses a legal limit lower than .08. Herbert says that Rome doesn’t have a large Mormon population, and their legal limit is similar to Utah’s new legal limit.