NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Utah First In The Nation To Lower Its DUI Limit To .05 Percent

Just in time for New Year's Eve, Utah lowered its blood alcohol content limit to .05 percent for drunken driving. That means about half as many drinks for a lot of people.
Philippe Turpin
Getty Images/Photononstop RF
Just in time for New Year's Eve, Utah lowered its blood alcohol content limit to .05 percent for drunken driving. That means about half as many drinks for a lot of people.

In 1983, Utah was the first state to lower its blood alcohol limit from 0.10 to 0.08 for impaired driving. It would take nearly two decades for every state to follow suit, but as they did, the nation's rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths dropped 10 percent. Now, Utah is pioneering the move to lower it once again.

Beginning Dec. 30 — yes, the day before New Year's Eve — Utahns will have to be extra careful about drinking and driving. On Sunday, the state's blood alcohol content limit will drop from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, marking the strictest DUI law in the country.

To give you an idea of the difference in consumption, for a man weighing 180 pounds, it takes about four drinks to reach a BAC of 0.08 percent, according to the American Beverage Institute. But to reach .05, it's about half as many drinks and can be even fewer for women.

Utah law limits the type of and strength of alcohol depending on where it is purchased, with different limits on beer and heavy beer.

Still, the current limit of .08 is "a significant amount of drinking" for a lot of people, says Utah state Rep. Norm Thurston, a Republican.

Thurston sponsored the bill to lower the limit in 2017 at the request of the National Transportation Safety Board, which has been urging states to lower DUI limits to 0.05 since 2013.

Thurston says he believes the new limit will save lives because it sends a strict message to anyone who has been drinking not to get behind the wheel.

"You would think that we're already there as a society," but Thurston says he meets a lot of people who say they think it's safe to drink and drive, "just a little bit."

Critics slammed the Republican, a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for running the bill. The church urges its members not to consume alcohol, and many accused him, as a Mormon, of trying to legislate drinkers and non-Mormons.

The American Beverage Institute, an alcohol trade organization, has been a vocal critic of the law. Spokesman Jackson Shedelbower says he doesn't believe the change will save lives. The lower limit targets social, moderate drinkers, not "legitimately drunk drivers," he says.

" Nearly 70 percent of alcohol-related fatalities in this country are caused by someone with a BAC of 0.15 and above," Shedlbower says, three times the new limit in Utah.

So, will drunken driving arrests in Utah increase starting Dec. 30? Probably not, says Sgt. Nick Street with the Utah Highway Patrol.

"Troopers and officers throughout the state should already be arresting based on impairment, not based on a per se limit, and that standard is not going to change," he says.

Street says he believes the law has already changed drivers' behaviors, even before it went into effect.

"I think people are making better decisions on the front end of a night," by using ride-hailing apps or choosing designated drivers.

Copyright 2020 KUER 90.1. To see more, visit KUER 90.1.

Nicole Nixon