Utah To Become The First State To Lower DUI Limit To 0.05

By William Georgiades 03/10/17

If Utah Governor Gary Herbert signs the bill, the law will go into effect the day before New Year's Eve 2018.

Man reaching for keys at a bar and friend grabbing his hand to stop him.

This week, Utah passed either the most responsible drunk driving law in the country, or—according to one point of view—the strictest.

State lawmakers in Utah voted on Wednesday to lower the blood alcohol content limit for drunk driving offenses from 0.08% to 0.05%. The proposal passed the Utah State Legislature and now makes its way to Governor Gary Herbert, who has indicated that he supports the bill. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, if the governor signs the bill, the law will go into effect on December 30, 2018, the day before New Year's Eve. It would mark the lowest blood alcohol level in the country. 

Proposed by Rep. Norman Thurston, the measure passed the Utah Senate with an 18-11 vote. It has split lawmakers, as well as those in the beverage industry.

Opposition and support for the bill came in equal measure. Both the Utah Restaurant Association and the American Beverage Institute issued strong condemnation of the bill, noting the effect it would have on tourism in the state. 

Sarah Longwell of the American Beverage Institute pointed to statistics of drunk driving fatalities, noting, “Over 77% of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Utah are caused by people with [blood alcohol levels] of .15 and above.” She added that the average blood alcohol level in a person involved in a fatal car accident tends to be 0.20%—more than twice the current legal limit. 

But lawmakers praised the bill, noting that while it might be a first in the United States, it corresponds to laws around the world, from Southeast Asia to Europe. Republican Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams said, “Utah leads,” in response to criticism of this being a first.

A similar proposal recently failed in Hawaii, while another such bill is currently being considered in Washington.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Utah already has lower drunk-driving statistics than most U.S. states. Between 2003 and 2012, 469 people have been killed in drunk driving accidents and 0.7% of people in Utah report driving after drinking too much, compared with a reported national average of 1.9% of people.

The National Transportation Board (NTB) and other public health experts have long urged all states to adopt 0.05% as the standard blood alcohol level, with Deborah Hersman, Chairwoman of the NTB, telling the New York Times in 2013, “There are at least 10,000 reasons to tackle the issue,” noting the annual average of 10,000 drunk driving fatalities nationally.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

William Georgiades is a former editor at EsquireBlack Book, the New York Post and the Grapevine and has written for several publications including New York MagazineVanity Fair, the London Times and GQ. He has been the features editor at The Fix since 2013. You can find him on Linkedin.