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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to make Utah's blood-alcohol limit for driving the lowest in the nation passed the Utah House of Representatives on Thursday.
HB155, would reduce the legal limit from .08 to .05 — a limit that matches most European and Asian countries but would make Utah the first state in the U.S. to drop the limit to .05.
Bill sponsor Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said reducing the legal limit isn't intended to discourage drinking but make Utahns think more seriously about drinking and driving.
"We don't want to stop people from drinking. That's not the goal," Thurston said. "The goal is to send the message that in the state of Utah, if you drink, you don't drive."
Critics of the bill, however, questioned whether reducing the limit would actually make a difference other than incriminate more people.
Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, said Utah law enforcement already does a "great job" stopping drunken drivers. He noted that police can already arrest and pull over drivers they suspect are impaired, and blood-alcohol content isn't tested until after arrest.
Under current law, if someone is found to be impaired but is still below .08, they would face a citation rather than a DUI charge and an automatic 120-day driver's license suspension.
"I think this is the equivalent of being charged for burglary to break into your own car to get the keys," Wheatley said. "I don't see how lowering it will make much of a difference."
But Thurston said a .05 limit equals the consumption of two-thirds of a bottle of wine, three shots or six beers. He pointed out the National Traffic Safety Board has recommended lowering blood-alcohol driving limits to .05 or lower since 2013.
"Yes, people feel fine at .05," Thurston said. "But the reality is at .05, you are in fact not fine. You feel fine, but you're not fine. This helps people understand that feeling fine and being fine is not the same thing."
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
If HB155 becomes law, it would take effect Dec. 30, 2018, just in time for next year's New Year's Eve weekend.