POLITICS
03/23/2017 07:43 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2017

Utah Adopts Nation's Strictest Drunk Driving Law

The bill lowers the state’s blood-alcohol limit while driving to 0.05 percent.

WASHINGTON — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday signed a controversial bill to lower the state’s blood-alcohol limit for drivers to 0.05 percent — the strictest standard in the nation.

Herbert said in a statement that the bill is good public policy aimed at reducing the number of alcohol-related deaths on Utah’s roads. 

“Public safety is our focus,” he said. “This law does not target drinking; it is a public safety law that targets impaired driving.”

In passing the legislation, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Norman Thurston, Utah becomes the first state to drop the blood-alcohol limit below the 0.08 percent nationwide standard. The move comes more than three decades after Utah became the first state to adopt the 0.08 BAC limit.

Herbert said he plans to call a special session to address unintended consequences of the law and make necessary modifications before it takes effect on Dec. 31, 2018

“This law will save lives, therefore it is good public policy and will move us closer to achieving our goal of ‘Zero Fatalities,’” he said.

USA Today reports that the bill was backed by the National Transportation Safety Board, which has advocated for states lowering the BAC levels to 0.05 — “or even lower.” 

“When it comes to alcohol use, we know that impairment begins well before a person’s BAC reaches 0.08 percent, the current limit in the United States at which a driver is presumed to be impaired,” the agency writes in a list of recommendations for improving transportation safety. “In fact, by the time BAC reaches that level, the risk of a fatal crash has more than doubled.”

Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, also applauded the law as a victory, saying it will ensure the safety of Utah residents and visitors. 

“This law is backed by scientific research, data and outcomes from over 100 countries that have already changed their laws to .05 percent BAC and reduced impaired driving,” she said in a statement. “Reducing BAC limits will not discourage alcohol consumption, but it will deter dangerous drinking and driving.”

Opponents, however, including the Utah Restaurant Association, say the law incriminates those who drink responsibly.

In an op-ed published in The Salt Lake Tribune, Sarah Longwell, the managing director of the American Beverage Institute, noted a 120-pound woman could reach the limit after just a single drink, and be subject to arrest, jail, thousands of dollars in fines and social stigma.

“It’s clear that the state’s unique relationship with alcohol played a significant role in passing this law so quickly and decisively,” Longwell wrote. “The National Transportation Safety Board — the main advocate for 0.05 laws — saw an easier legislative path in Utah than in other states.”

An estimated 10,000 people are killed in the United States each year in alcohol-related vehicle crashes — roughly 28 per day, according to NTSB statistics. 

During a press conference Thursday, Herbert dismissed the idea that the law is a religious issue or that it would make people view Utah as “weird.” 

“There’s not very many Mormons in Rome and they’re doing it there also,” he said of implementing a 0.05 BAC limit.

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