Utah set to drop blood-alcohol limit to .05, strictest in country

An average-sized man reaches a .05 blood-alcohol level by having more than two standard drinks in the first hour and over one per hour after that.
Image: Utah bar
People sit at the bar at Gracie's Bar and Restaurant, in Salt Lake City on May 2, 2017.Rick Bowmer / AP

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By Janelle Griffith

Utah will impose the country’s strictest limit for alcohol consumption later this month — just in time for New Year’s Eve.

The law, which was passed in March 2017 by Gov. Gary Herbert, will define driving under the influence as having a “blood or breath alcohol concentration of .05 grams or greater,” which is lower than the nationwide standard of .08.

It also states that a person with a blood-alcohol concentration level of .05 or higher who “operates a motor vehicle in a negligent manner causing the death of another” will have committed an automobile homicide, a felony.

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The law will take effect Dec. 30.

The National Transportation Safety Board has been recommending for years that states make this change, saying in a 2013 report that "more than 100 countries have already established per se BAC limits at or below 0.05." Utah is the first state to follow this advice.

An average-sized man reaches a .05 blood-alcohol level by having more than two standard drinks in the first hour and over one drink each hour thereafter, according to a police agency in Australia, which has a .05 blood-alcohol limit.

That same policy agency stated that an average-sized woman reaches a .05 blood-alcohol level by consuming more than one standard drink per hour.

Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities accounted for 29 percent of the more than 37,000 auto-accident deaths in 2017, the lowest percentage since 1982, when National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started reporting alcohol data.

Utah had the lowest number of traffic deaths involving alcohol-impaired drivers of any state, about 19 percent, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law that states must impose at least the .08 standard for drunken driving by 2004.