Utah is the only state in the United States (U.S.) with a 0.05 blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for driving. This is lower than the federal standard of 0.08. Utah passed the law to reduce their BAC in 2017 and it has been in effect since 2018.
A new study by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has investigated how the lowered BAC limit affected the state in 2019 (the first full year with the 0.05 BAC) compared to 2016 (the last full year with the old 0.08 BAC).
Alcohol policy improvements save lives
The investigation revealed the following key results:
- There were 248 traffic related fatalities and 225 fatal crashes in 2019, compared to 281 fatalities and 259 fatal crashes in 2016.
- The fatality rate fell by 18.3% and the fatal crash rate decreased by 19.8% during that time.
- The decreases come despite drivers logging in more miles in 2019 compared to 2016.
- In the months following the laws’ passage and enactment, there was a 15% reduction in the rate of crashes involving alcohol at multiple BAC levels.
In comparison to Utah, the rest of the U.S. saw a much lower decline in fatalities and fatal crashes, 5.9% and 5.6% decrease respectively. The neighboring states to Utah did not record as significant declines in traffic fatalities and fatal crashes as Utah.
Changing the law to .05% in Utah saved lives and motivated more drivers to take steps to avoid driving impaired,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as per ABC News.Dr. Steven Cliff, deputy administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Alcohol policy improvements change norms
The law had succeeded in changing people’s behaviors positively as well. A survey conducted with the study found that 22% of those who said they use alcohol reported they had changed their behavior after the law took effect. Most of whom said they found an alternative way to get home.
The NHTSA concluded in their report that the lower BAC produced “demonstrably positive impacts on highway safety in Utah.”
The results are good news before the backdrop of rising traffic fatalities with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, despite lower numbers of vehicles and drivers being on the road. In the first three months of 2021 alone, crashes spiked 12% as per NHTSA data. Full year data is to be released in spring.
Movendi International reported already in 2019 that the alcohol policy improvement yielded positive results on Utah’s roads and for Utah’s communities.
Big Alcohol propaganda exposed
The alcohol industry lobbied aggressively against the law before its adoption citing that alcohol sales would decrease and there would be fewer visitors to Utah, even going so far as to run an ad campaign against the BAC law improvement.
Their claims are proven unfounded by the new study results. The study points out that alcohol sales, tourism and tax revenues were unaffected and continue their increasing trend since the new BAC limit came into effect.
The study outcomes provide a strong rebuttal to these baseless arguments made by opponents of lower BAC laws,” said Cathy Chase, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety group, as per Bakersfield.com.Cathy Chase, president, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety group
Since 2013, the National Transportation Board has been advocating for states to reduce the BAC limit to 0.05. Lawmakers in states including Delaware, New York, Oregon, Hawaii, California and Michigan have explored the idea but only Utah took concrete action.
The hope is that other states will see these results and join Utah in passing legislation for .05,” said Tom Chapman, member of the National Transportation Safety Board, as per Bakersfield.com.Tom Chapman, member of the National Transportation Safety Board
Utah Rep. Norm Thurston, the Republican who sponsored the 2017 legislation has spoken with lawmakers in about 10 other states interested in passing similar policies. Saying that the lowering of the BAC limit in Utah proved “there are things that we put into public policy that will change people’s behavior.”
ABC News: “Study looks at impact of strictest blood-alcohol driving limits in the US“
The Hill: “Study finds lowering blood-alcohol limit saved lives in Utah“
Bakersfield: “Study: Fewer crashes after Utah sets strictest DUI law in US“