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Americans have been slow to take on drunken driving, despite the carnage on roads. In 2016, the last year for which numbers are available, 10,497 people died in alcohol-related crashes nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

People who ingest small amounts of alcohol and get behind the wheel will not automatically be carted to jail when Utah’s new .05 percent blood-alcohol limit takes effect on Sunday.

Despite the hue and cry from opponents of the law, including the American Beverage Institute, which bought ads urging people not to visit Utah, the law has a chance to make a strong, positive impact in the state and will become a proving lab for other states watching what happens here.

The worst drinking and driving offenders will continue to be taken off the road, as they were before the change. But the focus now puts the responsibility on all of us to focus on drinking levels with consideration for others, particularly those on the roads.

Lowering the limit simply gives police another tool with which to remove impaired drivers from the road — a wise move considering scientific evidence shows some degree of impairment begins at that level.

Casual drinkers, meanwhile, should develop a new sense of awareness — one that might include using one of the many transportation options available in modern society.

" It’s time to stop the complacency, and Utahns should be proud their state is leading the way. "

It also brings Utah more in line with a host of foreign countries, including many in Western Europe whose populations tend to drink large quantities of alcohol. Some of those countries, such as Norway and Sweden, strictly enforce .02 percent levels. They also have extremely low rates of drunken driving.

For some reason, Americans have been slow to take on drunken driving, despite the carnage on roads. In 2016, the last year for which numbers are available, 10,497 people died in alcohol-related crashes nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It’s time to stop the complacency, and Utahns should be proud their state is leading the way.

Opponents argue that lower blood-alcohol limits miss the point, and that it would be more effective to target people with extremely high levels of alcohol in their blood. But reducing the level has the effect of changing the culture over time. If even casual drinkers adopt the conventional wisdom that they shouldn’t drive after drinking small amounts, that wisdom could spread to more heavy drinkers, as well.

Problem drinkers, meanwhile, already are dealt with harshly under the law if they choose to drive.

It’s important to remember that Utah also was the first state to move to a .08 precent limit in 1983, and that the objections voiced today mirror those heard back then. Eventually, the rest of the nation followed Utah’s lead, and the National Transportation Safety Board says the move had saved 24,686 lives through 2014.

Those are children, parents, friends and neighbors who remain alive — an outcome that makes arguments about inconvenience seem petty.

Utah’s new law has the backing of a list of impressive groups, 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.

44 comments on this story

The science and reasoning behind the new law are sound. Lawmakers were wise not to give in to pressures to back off before it could take place. Despite the ad campaigns, tourism accounted for $1.34 billion in tax revenue in 2017 and supported 147,800 jobs. People are not staying away just because the state is serious about keeping roads safe.

Nothing in the new law prohibits people from ordering drinks with their meal or celebrating special occasions the same as they have in the past. The only thing that has changed is that law enforcement now has another tool with which to keep roads safe from people who already show signs of impaired driving.