The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that states change the legal blood-alcohol content level for drivers from .08 percent to .05 percent. The request is part of the agency’s effort to lower the number of drunk driving-related fatalities in the United States.
There were 9,878 drunk driving fatalities in the U.S. in 2011, an improvement from 2010, in which 10,136 died, according to Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. However, alcohol-related fatalities increased in Utah during that time from 25 to 39. The Utah State Legislature noted that in 2012 there were 9,599 DUI cases in Utah’s Justice Courts alone.
Ryan McBride, an attorney for the Utah County Attorney Criminal Division, said it would likely be difficult to reduce the legal limit state by state.
“Each state has their own DUI laws. …This could make it very difficult to change the law, but each state will have to fight its own battle. Mothers Against Drunk Driving advocates (the change); bar owners and alcohol manufacturers oppose it,” McBride said.
However, in his estimation, a lowered blood-alcohol limit would be a positive change.
“I think it would be a good thing to lower it,” McBride said. “DUI is a problem for some people at a lower level than another given person – to operate a car under the influence at different levels.”
In most states, blood-alcohol levels required for a DUI charge are lower for someone with a commercial driver’s license than for those with a standard license.
“We’ve said it’s not OK for (people with a) commercial driver’s license to drive at a lower level. Well, the human body of a commercial driver’s license holder and an average person is the same. … If the legal level is decreased, fatalities and accidents will also decrease,” McBride said.
John Allan, a defense attorney for Allan & Easton, a law practice in Provo, previously practiced as a prosecuting attorney. Given his experience on both sides of the fence, Allen opposes the proposed change to the law.
“I don’t think the blood-alcohol level should be changed because most people aren’t even affected when they have a level of .04, .05 or under,” Allan said. “(But) in the few cases that they are affected, they can still be prosecuted according to their actions.”
Several studies have shown that millions of Americans admit to occasionally driving under the influence. Parker Rushton, a music major at BYU, said he was alarmed at the number of people who engage in the behavior, frequently with no consequence.
“Honestly, changing it from .08 to .05 would help,” Rushton said. “My guess is that people don’t know they can be prosecuted with a blood-alcohol level lower than .08. If they knew they had to be under .05, I think they’d drink less, or at least be more cautious about driving while under the influence.”
Despite recording a recent spike in DUI fatalities, the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice reported 13,031 DUI arrests in the 2012 fiscal year, 785 less than the same period in 2011.