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Utah’s 0.05% DUI law turns 2, and it’s time other states follow suit

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A Utah Highway Patrol trooper searches for information on his computer on I-15 in Utah County on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

It’s been two years since Utah implemented a 0.05% blood alcohol content DUI law, and it’s high time other states follow its lead.

The strictest DUI law in the nation came with a lot of noise and a host of dismal prophecies about Utah’s tourism and entertainment industry, all of which have been torn to shreds.

We have yet to see evidence suggesting a stricter drinking-and-driving limit has torpedoed the state’s restaurants and bars. On the contrary, tourism dollars increased in 2018, the year after the bill passed the Legislature. The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah reported it was a record year, with tourism-related spending up 6.5% over 2017.

Earlier this year, the Utah Office of Tourism told columnist Jay Evensen the agency’s “social listening” exercise — which monitored 35 million social media posts over three years — yielded positive results.

“We were pleased that our brew pubs got rave reviews,” managing director Vicki Varela wrote. “We got very high ratings for locally crafted beers. Lots of posts of people enjoying a beer, and comments about great atmosphere, nightlife, etc. in Salt Lake and Ogden.

“There were very few posts about .05 or other liquor laws.”

And the results of a 2019 study by researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania concluded Utah’s law is “not only ethically defensible but desirable.”

One researcher added, “Policymakers in other states should follow Utah’s lead to reduce alcohol-related traffic deaths, and Congress should incentivize these changes.”

So far the Beehive State stands alone. We hope others change their minds.

DUI laws aren’t meant to penalize social drinkers but to deter them from getting behind the wheel. And with today’s abundance of alternative transportation options — friends, Lyft, Uber, buses, taxis — there’s no excuse to be reckless. There’s also no need for complex guesswork about gender, bodyweight and the alcoholic formula of a beverage.

It’s true the number of arrests made when the driver is between 0.05% and the old 0.08% standard is hard to aggregate, but the Utah Highway Patrol is optimistic the law is sending the right message. Most offenders on the highway have blood alcohol levels of more than 0.08% anyway.

What the 0.05% limit does, says UHP, is hopefully help someone think twice before driving after drinking. 

Despite wild predictions from the American Beverage Institute and other critics, Utah’s DUI law is sound. And the National Transportation Safety Board also reminds you that “more than 100 countries have already established per se BAC limits at or below 0.05.” Japan cuts off at 0.03%, while Sweden takes it one step further at 0.02%.

Alcohol, according to an analysis from The Economist, is the most dangerous drug, even beating heroin and cocaine in terms of harm to the user and harm to communities. Any effort to make its consumption more responsible should be lauded, not criticized, and any opportunity to create a culture of accountability should be seized, not wasted.