In a last-ditch attempt to defeat a public safety policy that experts estimate will save hundreds of lives in coming years, opponents of a .05 blood-alcohol content standard for DUIs have gone for a liberal dose of alternative facts to pressure Gov. Gary Herbert into vetoing HB155.
Sutherland Institute stands for sound public policy based on the best information available, and so we examined the arguments of those opposed to HB155 and compared them to the facts.
Myth: A .05 BAC law will not reduce traffic fatalities
Fact: Alcohol and traffic safety experts estimate that a nationwide .05 BAC standard would reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities by 11 percent — saving 1,790 lives each year. According to Utah’s most recent DUI report, 335 people lost their lives from alcohol-related traffic fatalities between 2005 and 2015. An 11 percent decrease would mean 37 children, mothers, fathers and siblings who would still be alive today under a .05 BAC law.
Myth: Utah’s .05 BAC law targets responsible drinkers
Fact: A federal review of more than 100 scientific studies of drinking and driving skills reported, “The literature provides strong evidence that impairment of some driving-related skills begins with any departure from zero BAC. By .05 [BAC], the majority of studies have reported impairment by alcohol.” In other words, the scientific research says someone driving at .05 BAC is impaired. Responsible drinkers do not drive impaired.
Myth: Utah’s .05 BAC law does not target dangerous drivers who regularly drive with BACs greater than .15, and it won’t keep them off the roads
Fact: A review of the peer-reviewed research in 2014 reported that past U.S. efforts to lower the BAC limit “was associated with an 18 percent decrease in the proportion of fatal crashes with a fatally injured driver whose BAC was 0.15 or greater.” This same study reported that the proportion of drivers in fatal crashes with a BAC of .15 or higher fell 43 percent as state BAC limits were lowered. Lowering the BAC limit sends the same message to heavy drinkers as it does to light drinkers: Don’t drink and drive. Heavy drinkers plan out their evenings accordingly and drive less after they drink, leading to fewer fatalities caused by heavily drunk drivers.
Myth: A 120-pound woman will hit .05 BAC with one drink, and a 150-pound man will hit .05 BAC with two beers
Fact: According to the BAC chart on dui.drivinglaws.org — a website published by do-it-yourself legal company Nolo — a 120-pound woman will be under .03 BAC with one drink, and a 150-pound man will be just over .04 BAC with two beers. Concerns that many people will be at risk of getting a DUI with minimal drinking due to a .05 BAC law are based in fear, not fact.
Myth: Utah’s .05 BAC law will harm tourism and tourism-based industries
Fact: Even though Utah was the first state in the nation to lower its BAC limit from .1 to .08 in 1983, tourism grew in Utah throughout the early 1980s. According to a tourism report published by the University of Utah, visits to Utah’s national parks increased each year from 1982 to 1992. Additionally, total skier days increased between the 1982/83 and 1983/84 ski seasons; remained roughly the same for the next ski season; and then increased again during the 1985/86 ski season. Colorado, one of Utah’s main tourism competitors, also has a “driving while ability impaired” law that imprisons and fines impaired drivers with at least a .05 BAC, just like Utah’s .05 BAC law would do. Fears over harms to Utah tourism from a .05 BAC law do not appear to be justified by the facts.
The public and Utah policymakers deserve better than myths and alternative facts as they consider the merits of Utah’s .05 BAC law. If we want to rise above politics as usual — spouting talking points past each other — to achieve an elevated public dialogue and find practical solutions that change and save lives, it has to begin with credible information and sound principles. Utah’s .05 BAC law is well-grounded in both.
Derek Monson is director of public policy at Sutherland Institute.