Nation watching as Utah lowers BAC limit for drunken drivers

After Utah lowered its blood alcohol concentration threshold for driving from .08 to .05, other states are closely watching to see how the new law is received.

“We are behind many other countries, many other countries have a .05 BAC or lower and so maybe other states will now follow that Utah took the lead,” said Traci Toomey, the University of Minnesota Alcohol Epidemiology Program director.

Toomey, an expert in alcohol control policies, has long advocated for Minnesota and the nation to improve laws that will save lives from drinking and driving crashes.

“We still have about 30 percent of traffic crashes that involve alcohol-impaired driving as a result of alcohol-impaired driving, so we have to do more,” she said.

Recent statistics released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety show numbers are going in the wrong direction lately. In 2018, there were 380 traffic deaths compared with 358 in 2017. Of those, 121 were alcohol related, which was eight more than the previous year.

Four other states considered legislation that would reduce the BAC limit to .05 recently, but nothing passed. In Minnesota, there are no indications that lawmakers will take up this issue this session.

On New Year’s Eve, Republican Representative Pat Garofalo tweeted, "Nobody wants more drunk driving but .05 is excessive...this is not something I support happening in Minnesota."

Despite pushback from opponents who argue a slight adjustment to the legal drinking limit targets only casual drinkers not the more serious offenders, Professor Toomey says even buzzed driving is dangerous.

“I think that the alcohol industry has a lot of influence, but I think citizens and elected officials who want to save lives and prevent traffic crashes will prevail and eventually many states including Minnesota will lower their BAC to .05,” said Toomey.