Utah Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, is sponsoring a bill that would delay the implementation of Utah’s new toughest-in-the-nation DUI law that sets a .05 percent blood alcohol level as a threshold for drunken driving. Her bill would change the effective start date to Dec. 30, 2022. Currently, the law is scheduled to take effect Dec. 30 of this year.
A delay is a terrible idea. The .05 percent restriction would put Utah in line with the 100 or so nations that have adopted similar or stricter limits, including many European nations where people typically drink more than folks in the United States. It would make Utah a pioneer in a sane public policy backed by science.
The new law would save lives, but, more importantly, it would begin to change a culture that stubbornly accepts a certain amount of alcohol consumption in connection with the operation of a motor vehicle.
The science behind a .05 percent limit is sound. It has the backing of a long list of impressive organizations, including the World Medical Association, American Medical Association, British Medical Association, European Commission, European Transport Safety Council, World Health Organization, Canadian Medical Association, Center for Addiction and Mental Health, Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine and the National Transportation Safety Board.
The National Institutes of Health examined more than 100 studies and determined that at .05 percent, some people begin to struggle with driving simulation tests. Eye movement becomes less precise. Reaction times begin to slow.
Against this, opponents offer only arguments about the new law’s impact on the state’s reputation. The American Beverage Institute, which exists to support the restaurant and beverage industries, has attacked the law, even urging people not to visit the state. Its message is that visitors with .05 percent alcohol in their blood (which science has proved can impair driving) risk being arrested.
These scare tactics hardly stack up against the aforementioned organizations and scientific research. We imagine that, to victims of accidents caused by drunken drivers, they are obscene.
Opponents also argue it is difficult to know when you have consumed enough alcohol to reach a .05 level.
That is precisely the point.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has published a chart that combines body weight and drinks consumed to help people make calculations of when they've had too much to drink to drive. A 180-pound man, for instance, would be OK after two drinks, while a 180-pound woman would not. Both would be in trouble if they weighed only 160 pounds, but each should subtract .015 percent for each hour after taking the last sip.
We doubt many people step on a scale before ordering a drink, just as we are certain they don’t carry charts and calculators.
Utah’s law would help put an end to the guessing game. If you drink alcohol, in any amount, you shouldn’t drive. Make other arrangements. Plan to summon a cab or an Uber, take public transportation or arrange for a sober friend to drive. This is what people in much of the world do. That is the cultural shift that America can make, beginning with Utah.38 comments on this story
It is true that drivers with alcohol levels of .08 percent or lower cause fewer accidents than those with much higher levels. But it is wrong to say they cause none. Lowering the allowable level would begin to change the culture of drunken driving, which eventually would affect the behaviors of all but the most defiant problem drinkers.
Utah was a pioneer in lowering the allowable level to .08 percent, becoming the first state to do so in 1983. The effects of that decision are unimpeachable. DUI deaths have dropped 65 percent nationwide since then.
A drop to .05 percent could lead to similar results, especially as it puts pressure on other states to follow suit. It would be unconscionable and illogical to delay its implementation.