There is no denying that driving while intoxicated has been a problem since the invention of the automobile. It was probably an issue as far back as the horse and carriage. In 2014, close to ten thousand people perished as a result of a person getting behind the wheel of a car and driving under the influence.
The problem with drinking and driving is that it’s difficult to stop someone who wants to get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol or smoking pot. You can punish someone after the fact, or try to put hurdles in their way so they don’t become a repeat offender, but there is no way to stop drinking and driving altogether.
Tired of so much carnage revolving around the dangerous behavior of driving under the influence, many states have tried to tackle the problem by putting standards in place to define when someone is legally intoxicated. One state that is trying to put a stop to drunk driving is Utah. Known for its predominantly non-drinking population, Utah is set to advance the toughest laws in the nation against drunk driving.
Last Friday, Utah became the first state in the union to lower the legal limit for blood alcohol levels to 0.05. That is the equivalent of nearly three drinks in one hour for a man and two drinks for the average female. Voted on at the House Law Enforcement Committee HB155, it passed and now will be sent along to the Main House.
The leading force behind lowering the legal limit was testimony by Bella Dinh-Zarr, who is currently the head of the National Transportation Safety Board. She traveled to Utah to speak at the assembly for its passing. Insisting that her intention was to stop people from dying, not to stop people from drinking, the law isn’t about how much someone wants to drink; it is about how much they drink before getting behind the wheel and potentially killing someone.
In her testimony, she maintained that there are more than 100 nations that use 0.05 as the standard, instead of the current 0.08 that most states use as the legal limit. The only exception is that commercial drivers in the US are held to a lower blood alcohol limit of 0.04. They have stricter standards due to the weight of operating an enormous vehicle or transporting other people.
In Utah, those who are under 21 cannot have any trace of alcohol in their blood, or they are liable to be charged with a DUI since the legal drinking age is 21. The presumption is that they are already committing a crime by drinking alcohol at all.
Statistics indicate that if the legal limit was lowered to 0.05, it has the potential to save as many as 1800 lives a year. Statistically, those who are in fatal car crashes are predominantly between BAC of 0.05 and 0.79. Individuals within this category are up to seven times more likely to be at fault for a fatal collision. It could be because they are unaware that they are even intoxicated, or maybe their reaction times and judgment are impaired.
The biggest reason that Utah wants to change the limit is that they hope that it will send a message to anyone who thinks that having a “couple” of drinks before driving is harmless. It will hopefully instill an awareness in drivers that is currently not there.
No one thinks they are drunk after only having a drink or two, but studies by DUI help, show differently. Just two drinks can significantly slow reaction times and muddle the ability to make good decisions, which are both recipes for disaster when you are driving a vehicle.
There are still those who believe that the 0.08 limit is enough. After all, it isn’t just the BAC that determines if someone is driving while intoxicated or not. There has to be a field sobriety test, and the officer cannot pull someone over unless they suspect someone is driving while drunk due to erratic behaviors.
Lowering the legal limit may not do anything to stop an accident. But if it can put a question into someone’s head about the definitions of “drunk” and “sober,” then it might stop just one person from getting behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.
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