SALT LAKE CITY — Two years after Utah lawmakers passed a controversial bill that lowered the state’s DUI threshold to the lowest in the country, more states are kicking around the idea to follow suit.
Politicians in California, Michigan and New York have all proposed bills to lower their state thresholds to .05 percent blood alcohol content in the past few months. Utah remains the only state with a .05 percent blood alcohol content threshold since the law went into effect Dec. 30, 2018.
“Part of the vision was we’re not just going to save lives in Utah, we’re going to end up saving lives in other states too because they will follow along with our example. Now we’re starting to see that happening, and it’s what I hoped to see,” Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who drafted Utah’s .05 bill in 2017, told KSL.com on Thursday.
Several countries like Argentina, Australia, France, Germany, Spain and Turkey already had .05 percent blood alcohol content limits, according to BACtrack.com. Though all other 49 states in the U.S. still have .08 percent thresholds and some states also have aggravated drunk driving penalties at certain blood alcohol content levels.
So why have other states looked into the idea of lowering its DUI threshold?
"We recognize that .08 blood alcohol content is still too high and other countries and states lowered it to .05, and so should New York. There's a big difference in cognitive abilities between .08 and .05, and this bill could save lives,” New York State Sen. John Liu, D-Queens, a sponsor of New York’s bill, told Rockland/Westchester Journal News on Saturday.
Similar bills have been attempted in New York in at least two other occasions, but previous attempts failed, according to WLNY.
MLive.com reported that Michigan Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, introduced a similar bill in March.
“We know that the current policies in place are not working, which is why we must do more,” he told that newspaper at the time.
California state assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Marina Del Rey, introduced AB1713, or “Liam’s Law,” on Feb. 22, 2019, that would serve the same purpose. That bill has been met with fierce debate much like Utah’s HB155 did in 2017.
Jackson Shedelbower, the communications director of the American Beverage Institute, penned a column for the Orange County Register in March blasting the bill.
The institute also opposes the Michigan and New York proposals, as it did with Utah’s 2017 bill. The Washington, D.C.-based organization ran ads opposing it in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah newspapers in 2017. Among other things, the organization argues lowering the threshold to .05 percent blood alcohol content targets those with one or two drinks during a meal. Other opponents to Utah’s bill in 2017 said the same.
“Lowering the legal limit does nothing to address the group of high-BAC and repeat drunk driving offenders who are responsible for the overwhelming majority of alcohol-related traffic fatalities,” Shedelbower wrote in his op-ed.
Mishel Eder, whose son’s death is referenced in the California bill’s name, responded to Shedelbower’s op-ed with one of her own in the Daily Breeze on April 22.
“That is exactly what we hope the law will do — lower the risk for every one of getting into a serious crash,” she wrote. “Whether a driver is a social drinker or a problem drinker is irrelevant. Impairment is impairment.”
It remains uncertain if any of those states will join Utah in their .05 percent pursuits. It’s also too early to call Utah’s law change a success or a failure. That said, Thurston said he hasn’t heard anything negative about Utah’s law at that point, including any problems for Utah’s restaurant or tourism industries that some feared would happen.
I anticipate it’ll follow a similar path as when we went from 0.10 to 0.08. It will take a long time for all the states to get on board. As states start seeing the results and the data coming back, I think more and more states will join.
–Utah Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo
Utah Highway Patrol officials are still tallying DUI totals from the state’s first year with a new threshold. There were 38 DUI arrests that involved drivers with .05-.079 percent BAC were made in January, officials said. Of those, 31 were either alcohol-restricted drivers or under the age of 21. They made up just 4.5 percent of Utah’s DUI cases in January.
Thurston said he anticipates it might be a bit until other states adopt Utah’s new BAC threshold.
“I anticipate it’ll follow a similar path as when we went from 0.10 to 0.08. It will take a long time for all the states to get on board,” he said. “As states start seeing the results and the data coming back, I think more and more states will join.”