Utah has become the first state in the US to lower the limit for driving under the influence from .08 to .05. On March 23, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill lowering the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit for the crime of driving under the influence from .08 to .05, making it the strictest DUI law in the country.
BAC is a measurement used to create medical and legal standards by which to measure impairment. A limit of .05 would roughly translate to one glass of wine for an individual weighing 120 pounds and two beers for a person weighing 150 lbs. Utah legislators who sponsored the bill stated that they hoped it would pave the way for other states across the country lower their BAC thresholds to .05.
The standard of .05 is advocated by a variety of organizations including the National Transportation Safety Board, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the National Safety Council. These groups stress that individuals begin to suffer the effects of impairment with their first drink, and a low standard is necessary to keep them off the road.
Legislators in some states are looking to follow suit. Hawaii introduced Senate Bill 18, which would also decrease the aloha state's DUI threshold from .08 to .05. That bill is current in committee.
Could the state of Washington follow suit? Some Washington legislators would like to. Last month, Representative John Lovick introduced HB 1874, which would lower Washington's DUI threshold from .08 to .05. That bill is currently under review by the House Committee on Transportation.
Several have voiced concern over the effects that the legislation may have in the state of Utah. Some point to the issues that out-of-state drivers might have, who would be used to a different standard and could face unexpected consequences. Some grounds aired concerns that people might even avoid traveling to Utah in order to avoid such consequences, and this is no trivial concern. The state, which is home to several popular National Parks, counts tourism as a leading source of revenue.
Utah law enforcement is going to be faced with the difficulty of enforcing a standard that is almost half the amount of the previous standard, which will present other challenges. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill questioned how officers will be able to establish probable cause to remove a driver from his or her car and conduct a DUI investigation because a driver might exhibit no outward symptoms of impairment, but still be violating the relatively low .05 threshold.
Mr. Gill stated that Utah officers may have to let drivers drive away even though they're violating the new law, or administer field tests to everyone who admits to having had a drink, even if they don't seem impaired. Additionally, he feels the law may result in more convictions of drivers with blood-alcohol levels at 0.06 or 0.07 percent, even though these drivers had "questionable impairment".