Utah lawmakers backed legislation on Wednesday that could make the state’s DUI threshold the strictest in the nation by lowering the blood alcohol content limit to 0.05 percent.
Members of a Senate transportation committee voted in favor of the plan, saying it would help to save lives by keeping more people off the roads after drinking. It now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
The proposal would mean that a 150-pound man could get a DUI after two beers, while a 120-pound woman could get one after a single drink, according to the American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade group. A number of factors, including how much food is in someone’s stomach, could impact how much a drink will raise someone’s BAC.
Although lawmakers in Washington and Hawaii have introduced similar legislation this year, if Utah approves it first, the state could have the strictest BAC limit in the nation. In the U.S., the BAC limit for most drivers is 0.08, but limits vary among states for commercial drivers or drivers who have had a past DUI conviction.
“That’s the problem with our current law, it sends the message that you can drink up to a certain point and then drive,” said bill sponsor Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo. “But evidence shows that impairment begins with the first drink.”
At a BAC of 0.05 percent, a driver may have trouble steering and have a harder time coordinating, tracking moving objects and responding to emergencies, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
For several years, the National Transportation Safety Board has encouraged states to drop their BAC levels to 0.05 or even lower, though local officials have not adopted the standards.
Sarah Longwell, Managing Director of the American Beverage Institute, spoke out against the plan, saying the reason no states have made such a change is because there is no public appetite for making the DUI threshold stricter and no science to back up the argument that it makes people safer.
“It will make criminals out of many of our responsible customers,” said Longwell.
There was a wide array of criticism from the hospitality industry during the push for all states to lower their BAC to 0.08, arguing that the stricter limits punish responsible drinkers.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, a Salt Lake City Democrat and member of the committee, said the proposal will hurt Utah’s tourism industry and its ability to attract high-paying jobs by exacerbating the state’s “weirdness factor.”
He suggested that Utah wait for other states to pass the bill, before going forward with its own legislation.
A tough stance on alcohol is hardly new for the majority Mormon state. An estimated 60 percent of the state’s residents and most of the state Legislature are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which instructs church members to avoid drinking alcohol.
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