My brother loves vacationing in Utah. In fact, he’s been to Utah with his family and friends five times in recent years, mostly to snowboard. He likes the nice trails, the restaurants, the value for lodging and lift tickets, and the good road conditions when he is driving between resorts during snowy weather. When I told him that Utah was considering lowering the BAC to .05 percent and people were worried about it affecting tourism, he told me to use him as an example of “a tourist from Florida who wants to return and enjoy Utah in the future, but [he] would prefer to survive the trip without being hit by a drunk driver!”
As the two youngest siblings in our family, my brother and I don’t always agree. But since he is a doctor and I am acting chairman of the NTSB, we do agree that far too many people die in alcohol-related crashes — 10,000 people every year. We also know that a .05 BAC law would reduce deaths at high and low BAC levels because it discourages people who have been drinking from getting behind the wheel. And we know that even at .05 BAC, key driving skills such as coordination, visual/tracking, steering and emergency reaction time are affected.
At the NTSB, we independently investigate accidents and we make recommendations to save lives and improve transportation safety. We have recommended that all 50 states lower their BAC levels to .05 or lower because there is solid evidence that such laws will reduce impaired driving and save lives. That is why the Utah Medical Society, the PTA, law enforcement, and 63 percent of Americans all support a .05 BAC. When Utah passed a .08 BAC in 1983, all other states followed suit, ultimately saving 24,686 lives between 1983-2014 in the 50 states. In the United States, if every state passed a .05 BAC law, we would save 1,790 lives every year.
I hear that Utah restaurant owners and tourism businesses have been given incorrect and misleading information by opponents who are using scare tactics to oppose a lifesaving .05 law. Interestingly, we know that alcohol consumption (usually measured by sales) in countries with a .05 BAC (or lower) is higher per capita than alcohol consumption in the United States. So people in places with a .05 BAC law actually drink more but they are less likely to die in a motor vehicle crash.
I also have heard that these opponents have placed ads joking about how Utah will lose business and how people will be arrested for drunk driving. This just isn’t funny. It isn’t funny to me and it certainly will not be funny to the more than 60 families who will lose a loved one in an alcohol-related crash in Utah this year. My brother and his family travel Utah roads every year. With a .05 BAC law, Utah roads will be safer — for my family and yours.
Bella Dinh-Zarr, Ph.D, MPH, is the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.