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Utah's 0.05 blood alcohol standard could spread to other states

On Dec. 30, a new Utah law will go into effect, lowering the blood alcohol level for per se DUI from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent. Utah will have the strictest blood alcohol level in the nation, although 0.05 is already the limit for ordinary drivers in most of Europe.

Could 0.05 become the standard in Tennessee or other states? The push for a lower standard is already underway. In 2018, Delaware and New York considered lowering their standards, while Hawaii and Washington state considered it last year. Both supporters and opponents of the change are expecting states to propose the change in 2019.

Would lowering the per se DUI limit actually reduce drunk driving? That's not entirely clear yet.

While supporters rightly point out that almost all drunk driving deaths are preventable in theory, opponents say that the majority of DUIs involve two kinds of drivers: inexperienced drinkers and habitual drunk drivers. Lowering the blood alcohol limit will increase arrests among inexperienced drinkers but probably won't deter habitual drunk drivers more than the 0.08 standard has done.

"It's a behavioral change," counters a spokesperson for the nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "Somebody who may have had three drinks may now only have two. Some people will choose not to drive after drinking. There are a lot of options for people to get home safely, like taxis, Uber and Lyft."

The call for a change in drinking behavior has some Utah restaurateurs worried. "For us," said one restaurant owner, "we're especially concerned about tourists and business people who come to town and will be afraid to have a drink or two with their meal because they're going to be .05."

One academic study found that, when the U.S. dropped from 0.10 to 0.08 percent, the number of alcohol-related fatalities dropped by 10 percent. After reviewing international research, the academics concluded that dropping from 0.08 to 0.05 could reduce alcohol-related fatalities by another 11 percent.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the National Transportation Safety Board both support the lower standard.

"It's draconian. It's a catastrophe," says an opponent of the measure. "There's absolutely no evidence that this is going to do any public safety good. Instead, it has the potential to take thousands of innocent non-drunk people, declare them as DUI and put them on the fast track to all the criminal justice consequences of a DUI."

A DUI conviction can have significant consequences including jail time, fines, licenses restrictions, increases in insurance prices, and can affect employment and other areas of your life. It is important if faced with a DUI that you consult an attorney that is knowledgeable in defending such cases.

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