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The state of Utah is plowing ahead with a huge change to their law dealing with operating under the influence (OUI). While all of the other states in the U.S. make it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or above, Utah’s new law would make it illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.05% or higher.
Not only is it unlikely that the new law will prevent drunk driving crashes and save lives on the road, it will also infringe on many people’s ability to enjoy themselves in a safe and responsible way. It may also have a net negative effect on the restaurant industry.
The bill managed to pass through Utah’s state house and get signed by Governor Gary Herbert on March 23, 2017. The effect of Utah’s new law on drunk driving is simple – it lowers the legal BAC limit for drivers in the state down to 0.05%, down from the 0.08% legal limit used by all the other states in the country.
The National Transportation Safety Board has come out in support of the new law. According to them, it would save nearly 1,800 lives every year if all of the states followed Utah’s lead. They also argue that 85% of the world’s population lives in areas that use a 0.05% standard or lower, though this point is fraught with problems: Alcohol is outlawed in entire countries, like Iran, and most of the others are far more urban than the United States.
Even though the bill passed through the Utah state legislature, opposition to it has been fierce, and has come from many sides, some of them surprising.
The Utah Restaurant Association has come out against the law, claiming that it would hurt businesses and stunt the growth of the state’s blossoming tourist economy. While Utah is known as being predominantly Mormon, 40% of the state’s population doesn’t follow the religion and still drinks alcohol.
More surprisingly, gun advocates have also come out against the bill. Utah has an open carry law, but restricts those rights by prohibiting people who are under the influence from carrying firearms in public. The BAC for open carrying, though, is linked to the BAC for driving.
Utah is not new to pushing the limits of OUI laws. They were the first in the country to adopt the current 0.08% BAC limits, back in 1983. The sizeable Mormon and non-drinking population give these initiatives the support they need to pass through the state house. Once implemented, other states take notice and watch the developments closely before considering them for their own locales.
While Utah’s new OUI law isn’t set to go into effect until December 30, 2018, it already promises to shakeup the OUI-defense scene as everyone monitors how it impacts businesses and drunk driving enforcement.
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