Rep. Norm Thurston is sponsoring a bill, HB0155S01, that lowers the DUI standard from .08 to .05 (grams per 100 milliliters of blood or grams per 210 liters of breath) alcohol concentration (BAC). It is in the House and, assuming that it passes through, it will go to the Senate for consideration. It is one of the most important bills that are being discussed at the Legislature this year. It has the potential to save hundreds of lives in Utah, reduce much of the suffering that drinking and driving causes, and to lead the nation to emphasize “do not drink and drive.”
The bill is opposed by legislators who are worried about the effect on their constituents who may have a drink and drive. The trial lawyers who focus on DUI are also opposed to this bill. The NTSB has been adamant that the .05 standard should be the standard for legal impairment that affects the ability to safely drive. Proponents point out that when the message is delivered that the DUI standard is reduced, it will lead to less drinking and driving and result in no real increase in DUI arrests.
Opponents are also worried about the effect on tourism in Utah. But as Rep. Paul Ray pointed out during committee discussion, no one is coming to Utah to drink alcohol. Much of Utah’s tourism is due to recreational opportunities that should benefit from decreasing drinking and driving. Bicyclists in Utah would have significantly safer bicycling.
In the United States, about 31 percent of the vehicle crash deaths are alcohol related. In Sweden with a .02 BAC standard and in Netherlands with a .05 BAC standard, alcohol related crash deaths are 19 percent. According to the NTSB, “A .05 BAC law has a broad deterrent effect because it helps prevent drinking drivers from getting behind the wheel in the first place.” The NTSB points out that “research on effectiveness of laws shows that lowering the BAC changes behavior at all BAC levels by reducing drinking after drinking, so it is an effective intervention for preventing driving at both high and low BAC levels.”
Reducing the standard for DUI from .08 to .05 essentially says “do not drink and drive” instead of saying “have one or two drinks and no more and drive.” We do not tell our kids to have one or two drinks and drive or drink and drink and drive. We tell our kids NOT to drink and drive. The risk of being in a fatal crash is at least seven times higher if drivers have a BAC of .05 percent-.079 percent than if they have no alcohol in their system. In other words, drinking and driving kills people.
Moving from.10 to .08 reduced alcohol related fatalities 10.4 percent and has saved 1,736 lives annually. It is estimated that a .05 or lower BAC would result in an 11.1 percent decline in fatal alcohol crashes and save 1,790 lives annually in the U.S. In Utah, that may result in 18 lives a year being saved.
Utah should change the DUI standard to .05 and change the message from “have one or two drinks and drive” to “do not drink and drive”! Thurston’s HB0155S01 should become law in Utah. It will save hundreds of Utah lives, reduce rape (increased with alcohol), emphasize to teens to not drink and drive, make people think twice before having even one alcoholic drink and driving and it will reduce impaired driving. This bill will significantly increase public safety in Utah. Since public safety is a valid government function, citizens should contact their legislators and ask them to help pass this bill.
George Chapman is a former candidate for mayor of Salt Lake City.