Starting on Sunday, Utah will lower its blood alcohol content limit to 0.05% — the lowest DUI standard in the nation.
In 1983, Utah was the first state in the US to lower its blood alcohol limit from 0.10% to the 0.08%, and now all US states have a blood alcohol limit of 0.08% for drivers 21 and over. A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% is considered about four drinks in under an hour for a 160-pound man, and 0.05% of alcohol is considered about three drinks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Utah is home to the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes called the Mormon church, which advises against drinking alcohol — a fact that has been considered a factor in the state having some of the most restrictive drinking laws in the country. Until last year, Utah enforced a "Zion curtain" liquor law, which required restaurants to block bartenders making drinks from being seen by patrons with a barrier or partition. The original idea was to not make drinking look glamorous.
The National Transportation Safety Board has long advocated for a 0.05% limit for all states, saying it helps discourage drunken drivers from getting behind the wheel in the first place. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says about 29 people die every day in the US in alcohol-related deaths, about 10,000 deaths per year.
"It's been a long time coming and it's going to be good for the state of Utah," Rep. Norm Thurston said in an interview Monday with Fox 13. Thurston, a Republican and member of the LDS Church, sponsored the legislation in 2017 on behalf of the NTSB.
"It's going to reduce the number of people who choose to drive after drinking," he said. "It's also going to reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths."
The American Beverage Institute opposed the legislation saying that drivers are not too impaired to drive at 0.05% and that the law will only distract law enforcement from high-risk drivers.
"If Utah lawmakers want to reduce alcohol-related fatalities, they need to ensure that current ignition interlock laws are being enforced and that the devices stay on the vehicles of high-BAC and repeat offenders for as long as possible. That’s what will save lives, not targeting those who choose to enjoy a drink with dinner," Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute, said in a statement.
Utah Highway Patrol Col. Mike Rapich said in a video posted to Facebook that the new law will not change troopers' behavior in evaluating if a driver is impaired and "that it will be business as usual Sunday."
"We understand there is a fair amount of trepidation regarding this change," he said. "We hope you understand a driver's blood-alcohol concentration is just a single component considered when assessing that a driver's potential impairment and their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle."
He said troopers look for signs of impairment such as slurred speech, relaxed facial muscles, and the smell of alcohol. If the trooper reasonably believes a driver is impaired, then field sobriety tests would be administrated to determine if they're under the influence. If the driver is arrested, then a trooper would request a test to determine the amount of alcohol, such as a breath test, blood test, or urine sample.