Laura Seitz, Deseret News
the Unified Police Department conduct an Administrative DUI checkpoint in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018. Beginning Sunday, December 30, Utah's blood alcohol content limit will drop from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, making it the strictest DUI law in the country.

Add the University of Pennsylvania and Baylor to the list of credible sources with data to back the wisdom of Utah’s new .05 percent blood alcohol limit for drunken driving.

A new study by researchers at those institutions has found that the new limit, which took effect last New Year’s Eve, does little to curtail the freedom to drink alcohol, but it does much to prevent death and mayhem. The study’s authors said the new law does not target social drinking. Rather, it targets impaired driving.

“A person can still drink as much as they like, just not get behind the wheel,” said co-author Stephanie Morain. She also urged other states to follow Utah’s lead. That’s what happened nearly 40 years ago, when Utah was the first state to lower its legal limit to .08 percent.

Congress spurred that shift along by threatening to withhold money from states that didn’t comply with the new standard. Such action from Washington is unlikely to happen in today’s political climate, but that doesn’t mean other states shouldn’t be convinced by the evidence.

The new study looks at the law from an ethical analysis. “In the public health ethics field, it is acceptable to restrict individual freedom in order to prevent harm to others, and the BAC .05 laws are a shining example of this philosophy,” said Morain, an assistant professor in the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine.

The study hardly stands alone in its endorsement of this new law. Other organizations behind it include the World Medical Association, American Medical Association, British Medical Association, European Commission, European Transport Safety Council, World Health Organization, Canadian Medical Association, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Figures from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration show that 2,017 people died nationwide in accidents involving drivers with blood alcohol contents of .01 percent to .07 percent in 2016. That ought to be convincing enough to those who say a .05 percent level is not dangerous.

As a side note, this year’s Legislature is considering a bill that would increase the alcohol content of beer for sale at retail outlets in Utah. This would be a grave mistake, causing unwitting Utah drinkers to become inebriated faster and threatening the benefits from the new DUI law.

Several other nations have adopted standards at .05 percent or lower, including much of Europe. Yet, for some reason, Americans seem intent on excusing the practice of drinking and driving.

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Utah’s new law has faced withering criticism from opponents, most prominently the American Beverage Institute, which went so far as to buy ads in other states urging people not to visit Utah.

The critics have few real arguments, other than flimsy notions about criminalizing responsible drinkers. They use virtually the exact same tactics that once were thrown against the .08 percent laws.

These can’t stand up to the mounting studies that show a .05 percent limit not only increases safety, it does little harm to personal freedom.