Debunking the myths behind lowering the DUI level to 0.05

Written by Rep. Norm Thurston, House District 64Category: Today At Utah Policy Created: 17 March 2017

Recent letters to the editor and a petition circulated by representatives of the alcohol industry and Sen. Jim Dabakis contain significant factual errors that need to be addressed publicly.  

Since HB 155 was passed the way every bill should be - policy based on evidence - it is important that the facts used in the policy discussion be readily available. Alcohol industry insiders Sarah Longwell (American Beverage Institute), Michele Corigliano (Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association) and Sen. Jim Dabakis have chosen to ignore those facts and publish misleading and false statements that are the creation of the alcohol lobby.  

Here are several of the most egregious myths they perpetuate along with the corresponding corrections:

Myth: “This law focuses on the wrong people.” (Dabakis)

Truth: This law focuses on anyone who chooses to drink and drive by sending a clear message that this choice is not OK. Lowering the BAC limit to .05 will reduce the likelihood of drinking and driving at all BAC levels, including at the highest end, and save lives. (Fell and Voas 2006, Wagenaar et al. 2007, and Mann et al. 2001)

Myth: This law targets ‘responsible social drinkers.’ (Dabakis) “HB155 also increases the risk of arrest for nondrinkers in Utah.” (Corigliano)

Truth: By definition, a responsible drinker does not drive after drinking, and they certainly don’t drive while impaired. Under HB 155 a person will only be arrested for DUI if they have a BAC above .05 and they are first shown to be impaired through the administration of a standard field sobriety test. However, impairment begins with the first drink, and the crash risk grows exponentially with increasing BAC (Phillips and Brewer 2011, Compton and Berning 2015).

Myth: There is nowhere in the United States where the BAC limit is below .08. (Dabakis)

Truth: A BAC limit of .05 or lower is not a novel concept. For example, in Colorado, a person that is alcohol-impaired “to the slightest degree” can be charged with Driving While Ability Impaired which has similar penalties to a DUI conviction. An impaired Colorado driver with a BAC between .05 and .08 would face the same risk of arrest as they would in Utah with the implementation of HB 155. It is also worth noting that for commercial drivers nationwide, the BAC limit is .04, not to mention the fact that 85% of the world population lives where the limit is .05 or lower.

Myth: This law will stop responsible adults from legally enjoying a drink with dinner. (Dabakis)

Truth: This law does nothing to restrict a person’s ability to choose to drink with dinner or at a club or bar. It’s not about preventing drinking. It is entirely about separating that decision from the decision to drive, with the goal of saving lives.

Myth: “According to the American Beverage Institute, the proposal would mean a 120-pound woman could feasibly get a DUI after a single drink.” (Corigliano & Longwell)

Truth: The Cleveland Clinic has produced a simple app that you can use to estimate the impact of alcohol by body weight and time. For a 120 pound woman, one standard drink over the course of an hour equates to .03. (http://www.clevelandclinic.org/health/interactive/alcohol_calculator.asp)

Related Myth: “Harsh consequences would be permissible if this woman were impaired at 0.05, but she isn't.” (Longwell)

Truth: It doesn’t matter how a person gets to .05 BAC, they are definitely impaired at .05 and shouldn’t be driving. At a BAC of .04, all measures of impairment are statistically significant, and impairment is solely determined by BAC, not demographic factors or how many drinks it takes to get there. (Moskowitz et al. 2000)

Myth: “If most patrons are afraid to have anything to drink if they're going to be driving, then not only won't they order a drink with dinner, but eventually they may simply decide it's better to forgo a night out altogether.” (Longwell)

Truth: Nobody should go to a restaurant with a plan to drink and drive. Beyond that, this statement ignores the obvious alternatives, such as using designated drivers or transportation services like taxis, Uber or Lyft, which should already be common practice. Restaurants should not rely on people who drink and drive to shore up their profit margins.

Myth: “Fewer than 1% of traffic fatalities occur below the point 08 legal limit.” (Dabakis, Longwell, Corigliano)

Truth: A report by the Department to Public Safety from November 2016 shows that 15% of alcohol-related deaths in Utah over the past ten years involve a driver who has a BAC lower than .08.

Myth: It would be nearly impossible for operators, who must rely on guests' behavior and appearance, to gauge overconsumption. (Longwell)

Truth: HB 155 does not change the standard for impaired driving or public intoxication.  Operators and servers will not have to do anything different as a result of this law.  

Myth: Utah will become weirder and drive tourism to Colorado. (Dabakis)

Truth: Utah led the way in 1983 as one of the first states to lower BAC from .10 to .08, and there was no impact on tourism. In fact, all other states eventually followed our lead.  Colorado’s law already punishes impaired drivers with BAC between .05 and .08, just like HB 155 would do. A 2005 survey by the AAA Foundation shows that 63% of Americans support the concept of .05 as the standard for drinking and driving.  

For links to the studies cited here along with additional facts, please visit normthurston.com/dui.

 

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