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Utah .05 BAC law receives backlash

Posted on July 31st, 2017 / By Melanie Vespestad

In the past few months, the state of Utah and its legislators have been facing backlash because of a new law that was passed. Back in March, Utah became the first state to drop the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) from .08 to .05 when Governor Gary Herbert signed the legislation into law.

The change stems from recommendations of a 2013 National Transportation Safety Board report, which fought for lower BAC limits within the United States. When Utah finally made the change, the state began paying for it almost immediately.

Expected to take effect December 1, 2018,  advocates for the law believe that it will protect drivers on the road and deter against drunk driving.

“This law will save lives, therefore it is good public policy and will move us closer to achieving our goal of Zero Fatalities,” Herbert said in a Washington Times article.

There are several parties that are concerned with this new law. The bar and restaurant industry could take a hit due to customers who are fearful of having more than one drink. The number of drinks Utah has signed a BAC law that changes the legal limit from .08 to .05.purchased at these establishments could diminish drastically over the next several months, and the American Beverage Institute is not happy.

Along the way, several newspaper ads have been run that have jabbed the state for their decision. Some of them encouraged tourists to visit Utah’s surrounding states so that they don’t go on vacation and come home convicted of a DUI.

The most recent ad was created and supported by the American Beverage Institute, and it targeted the legislators who are over the age of 65. The premise came from an unfound NHTSA research that claims that drivers over the age of 65 are more impaired than any younger driver with a BAC of .05.

However, besides the fact that this NHTSA research can’t be found, other research has shown time and time again that those driving with a BAC of .05 or higher show impairment with a potential risk to other drivers. The National Institute of Health looked at many studies and found that even at .05, people showed difficulty with simulated driving tests. The study also found that effects were stronger for sleep deprived and younger drivers that were completing the test, which contradicts the study that the American Beverage Institute was relying on for their recent ad campaign.

Those who have argued against the change believe that the law is too oppressive and restrictive, and they feel that consumers will be too afraid to drink outside their home. The opposition fears that the law will not effectively lower the number of drunk driving arrests. They even wonder if drunk driving arrests will rise due to the standard for arrest being so much lower. Some argue that at .05, a person is not impaired, so there is no need for this law.

This school of thought supports the assumption that refusals will go up because the likelihood of reaching the 0.05 threshold after drinking is so favorable.

In some states, refusals yield harsh penalties such as additional fines, stricter suspensions and longer ignition interlock requirements. For states with this program structure, a 0.05 BAC limit could be beneficial to keeping those that “take their chances” from driving after drinking. In other states, refusals reveal loopholes and could be used by people to avoid the DUI process, thus allowing the opportunity to re-commit the same act over and over again.

While all states share the common goal of making the road safer and decreasing the number of drunken drivers on roadways, the approaches vary greatly. The states with the most strict ignition interlock laws see the most dramatic decreases in alcohol-related deaths. Utah is taking a new approach, and only time will reveal how effective this new law will be.

Filed Under: Legislation
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