Utah reports law improved safety

  • By Paul Gottlieb Special to Peninsula Daily News
  • Saturday, January 14, 2023 1:30am
  • Politics

By Paul Gottlieb

Special to Peninsula Daily News

Washington’s new DUI law would be modeled after a 6-year-old Utah statute that is the first of its kind in the U.S. to lower the illegal blood-alcohol-content level from .08 to .05.

Utah lawmakers approved the new threshold in 2017 with an effective date of Dec. 30, 2018.

It was intended to improve traffic safety and induce people to not drink at all before driving, a Utah Highway Patrol spokesman said Friday.

The Utah Legislature approved the new law in 2017 with an effective date of Dec. 30, 2021.

According to a February 2022 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study (https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/), 22 percent of Utah drinkers changed their behavior in 2019, mainly by ensuring they had other transportation when drinking away from home.

There were 9.6 percent fewer crashes per 100 million vehicle miles travelled and 10.8 percent fewer fatalities.

There were 259 fatal crashes and 248 fatalities in 2019 compared to 259 fatal crashes and 281 fatalities for 2016.

The fatality crash rate reduction from 2016-2019 in Utah was 19.8 percent and the fatality rate reduction 18.3 percent.

“Overall, the study’s findings indicate that passage of the .05 per se law had demonstrably positive impacts on highway safety in Utah,” the study said. “DUI arrest data showed no large spikes in overall arrests or arrests per population relative to the passage of the law.”

And alcohol sales stayed in an upward trajectory.

Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich said Friday the agency spent a year educating the public on lowering the DUI level from .08 BAC.

Officers updated their field sobriety training and conducted controlled experiments in which drinkers indicated when they felt impaired after they started drinking.

“Participants were more likely to say they felt impaired in earlier BAC tests, at .04 and .05, than at .08 and .10,” Rapich said.

“That supports the thought of making good decisions before you are impaired.

“The overarching intent, the point we are getting at is, it’s OK to drink, but if you’re going to drink, don’t drive.”

Ratich said DUI crash and fatality rates increased in 2020 and 2021 to above pre-statute levels, during the height of the pandemic, but began dropping again in 2022.


Former Peninsula Daily News Senior Reporter Paul Gottlieb can be reached at cpaulgottlieb@gmail.