Utah Is About to Lower Its Legal Blood Alcohol Limit to .05%

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Utah is quite possibly about to become even less attractive to tourists. Thanks to legislation passed earlier this week, the state may soon be lowering the blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit for drivers to .05 percent, down from .08 percent, which is standard for the rest of the country. The new law would make Utah the strictest DUI enforcer in the nation.

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Fox News reported yesterday that on Wednesday evening, March 8, Utah lawmakers voted to lower the BAC limit to .05, a level that the National Transportation Safety Board has been recommending for years. Should Republican Governor Gary Herbert sign the bill, the law would take effect December 30, 2018, just in time for New Year’s Eve. According to Fox, the governor has already stated verbally that he supports the legislation, so things are not looking good for those who like to have a drink with dinner, nor for the restaurants that like to serve them.

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So how much can an adult drink without getting a DUI? According to the American Beverage Institute (ABI), one to two drinks, depending on factors like a person’s biological gender, weight, and what they have eaten that day. For a 150-pound biological man, for example, just two beers could put him over the legal limit, while a biological woman who weighs 120 pounds could easily cross that threshold after a single drink.

Many other factors are at play, too, such as a person’s ethnic background — for example, about half of all Asian-descended people lack an enzyme (aldehyde dehydrogenase) that helps the body break down alcohol, meaning they will metabolize alcohol more slowly and thus become more intoxicated than other people.

And further, before it even gets to the drinker’s lips, “one drink” or even “one beer” can mean many things. While it is generally accepted that one drink equals 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor (40% alcohol) like whiskey or vodka, 12 ounces of 4.5 ABV beer, or 5 ounces of 12 percent ABV wine, any craft-beer drinker knows that while beer typically ranges between 4 and 6 percent, many styles, like double or imperial IPAs, hover in the 8 to 9 percent range, and imperial stouts can clock in anywhere from 10 to 14 percent.

The .05 BAC proposal, while shocking to some, is not new: the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been recommending states lower the legal BAC level for drivers for years, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says studies show impairments such as trouble steering, coordinating, tracking moving objects, and responding to emergency situations can occur at a BAC of .05 percent. Supporters believe a lower legal limit will save lives, keeping more drivers off the road if they have been drinking.

But those who oppose the bill, including libertarian-leaning Republicans and Democrats like Senator Jim Dabakis, believe the proposal will hurt the Utah tourism industry and its job market by adding to the state’s “weirdness factor,” as the Mormon-influenced state already shuns drinkers.

And ABI managing director, Sarah Longwell believes that rather than being problematic for those prone to drinking and driving, the bill would be detrimental to safe, casual drinkers, who simply could not have a drink with dinner without fearing a DUI.

“Utah legislators missed an opportunity today to target the hardcore drunk drivers who cause the vast majority of drunk-driving fatalities and instead decided to criminalize perfectly responsible behavior,” said Longwell in a statement on Wednesday, According to Longwell, more than 77 percent of alcohol-related traffic deaths in Utah result from drivers whose BAC is .15 or above. 

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