Utah Could Lower Drunk Driving Threshold To .05

By McCarton Ackerman 01/11/17

If the proposal passes, Utah would have the strictest BAC limit in the nation. 

Officer giving driver breathalyzer test.

A new proposal out of Utah is looking to go against the grain when it comes to drunk driving regulations, by placing its threshold lower than any other state in the country.

All 50 states currently have a .08 blood-alcohol limit at which people can be prosecuted for driving drunk, but the proposal put forth by state Rep. Norman Thurston would lower this to .05. The National Transportation Safety Board released a report in 2013 recommending that states lower their limit to .05, but Utah would be the first to comply with this.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Thurston, a Mormon who doesn’t drink, will introduce his bill at the upcoming legislative session. He said that he drafted the legislation while working alongside Utah Highway Patrol officials.

“Impairment starts with the first drink, and we want to establish this state as one where you just simply do not drink and drive. This is all about safety,” said Thurston. “I wish we were the 50th state to do it. This is something that should have happened a long time ago.”

Although drunk-driving deaths in Utah doubled from 23 to 45 between 2013 and 2014, alcohol is not a significant factor in deadly car crashes throughout the state, the LA Times noted. Drinking played a role in 13% of these crashes in 2015, while not wearing a seat belt was a factor in 31% and speed played a role in 37%.

Restaurant industry groups have subsequently pushed back on the proposal, with the American Beverage Institute referring to it as “criminalizing perfectly responsible behavior.” The Utah chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving has also said it doesn't support the measure and will continue to focus on using interlock devices that prevent people from driving drunk. 

“Why not focus on reducing the speed limit, or limiting texting while driving?” said Connor Boyack, president of the libertarian-leaning Libertas Institute outside Salt Lake City. “Those are real factors in causing traffic deaths … This would just criminalize people not causing any problems.”

In April 2016, a Salt Lake City theater was hit with a potential $25,000 fine for serving alcohol during a screening of Deadpool. State law prohibits alcohol sales during films that show real or simulated sex acts, full-frontal nudity or “caressing” of the buttocks or breasts. Ryan Reynolds, one of the stars of Deadpool, reportedly donated $5,000 to the theater’s legal defense fund and tweeted “Thank god, they’ve found a way to legislate fun.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.