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Utah Becomes First State to Lower BAC Limit to 0.05

Utah was the first state to lower the legal limit for blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) when driving from 0.10 to 0.08 in 1983, so perhaps it is not terribly surprising that the Beehive State appears poised to become the first state to once again further lower the limits. On March 23, Governor Gary Herbert signed House Bill (HB) 155, effectively reducing the BAC limits for driving under the influence (DUI) and other criminal offenses from 0.08 to 0.05.

The move comes nearly four years after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that the states reduce the allowable BAC to 0.05. All 50 states in the nation and the District of Columbia adopted the 0.08 standard after then-President Bill Clinton signed a law in 2000 that withheld federal highway funds from states that did not comply.

The New York Times noted in 2013 that the “standard in most of the industrialized world is 0.05 percent,” but The Hill reported that same year of the NTSB push that states showed little interest in revisiting the hot-button issue, industry groups lined up against the plan, and even Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) declined to endorse the NTSB recommendations.

Governor Herbert faced similar pressure from groups lobbying against the bill. Restaurant and hospitality groups such as the Utah Restaurant Association and the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association urged the governor to veto the bill, and the American Beverage Institute (ABI) took out this full-page ad in USA Today and Salt Lake City’s daily newspapers opposing the bill:

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According to the Times, government statistics show that people with a BAC of 0.05 percent are 38 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than those who have not been drinking, while individuals with BACs of 0.08 percent are 169 percent more likely. Restaurant and hospitality groups were not only fearful about possible decreases in alcohol consumption and tourism because of a decreased BAC threshold, but the industry was also dealing with expected increases in the price of liquor because of the governor signing HB 442, which would tear down the so-called “Zion Curtains” in restaurants and overhaul other parts of Utah liquor laws.

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While it will remain to be seen what effect lowering BAC limits has on the reduction in traffic fatalities in Utah, we are probably more likely to see an increase in the number of DUI arrests in the Beehive State when HB 155 takes effect on December 30, 2018. According to MADD, about one-third of all individuals arrested or convicted for drunk driving are repeat offenders.

Men who weigh 240 pounds or less could be considered legally intoxicated in Utah if they consume three alcoholic beverages in one hour. A woman who weighs less than 180 pounds can have a BAC of 0.05 or higher after only two alcoholic drinks consumed in an hour. A woman who weighs 100 pounds or less could reach the 0.05 BAC limit after a single drink.

Many people arrested for DUI for the first time in Utah often claim that they did not realize how intoxicated they were. When the state BAC limit is lowered to 0.05, there will likely be even more people who feel as though they passed field sobriety tests and did not exhibit any signs or symptoms of intoxication but were arrested for DUI after blowing 0.05 or higher.

ABI Managing Director Sarah Longwell called Governor Herbert’s decision to sign HB 155 “a sad day for Utah.” “Governor Herbert’s decision to sign Utah’s .05 legislation will not only harm the people of Utah, but cripple their restaurant and tourism industries,” Longwell said in a statement. “A 120 pound woman can now have little more than a single drink before being subject to arrest, $10,000 in fines, attorney fees, increased insurance costs, and the social stigma of being labeled a “drunk driver”—which will lead many to forgo that glass of wine with dinner.”

KSTU-TV reported that if a special session is called, “lawmakers could water down HB155 to delay when it becomes effective and its overall impact if someone is ever arrested with a .05 BAC.” For the time being, residents and visitors should plan on being even more cautious than usual when consuming alcohol in Utah.

If you are charged with DUI anywhere in Salt Lake County, you should know that an arrest is not the same as a conviction. An experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer can review every aspect of your traffic stop and arrest to determine whether any police error or oversight could lead to criminal charges being reduced or dismissed.

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