The Utah senator who takes the lead in setting state liquor policy on Wednesday said lawmakers will closely consider the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation that states reduce their drunk-driving thresholds.
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said they will look for guidance from European nations that have seen fatalities decline after prohibiting driving with a blood-alcohol concentration above 0.05 — more than a third lower than the U.S. standard of 0.08.
"I’m still in the investigation state," he said during a legislative hearing at the Capitol. "But this is obviously something we should be looking at" with an eye toward possible legislation to lower Utah’s limit
On Tuesday, the NTSB said people with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent are 38 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than those who have not been drinking. People with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent are 169 percent more likely.
The standard in most of the industrialized world is 0.05 percent. All 50 states and the District of Columbia switched to 0.08 percent after President Bill Clinton signed a law in 2000 that withheld highway construction money from states that did not agree to that standard.
The rate of deaths from crashes where the driver is found to be legally drunk is about 30 percent of all fatalities today, the NTSB said, down from about 50 percent when President Ronald Reagan first raised the issue as a national concern in 1982.
Lowering Utah’s allowable blood-alcohol level most likely would face opposition from distillers, brewers, bars and restaurants, which could lose business.
Melva Seine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said states should be cautious about criminalizing drinking.
"We need to research this carefully," she said. "I’m not sure that lowering the threshold is the answer to the problem of drunk driving."
If Utah lawmakers draft a bill to lower Utah’s limit, it may not have the support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Art Brown, director of MADD’s Utah chapter, said it’s important that people don’t drink when they drive "period."
"You get impaired after the first drink," he said. "People think they can drink until they are at 0.08, but you can get arrested if you are impaired, no matter what the blood-alcohol [level] is."
New York Times News Service contributed to this story.
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