On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation Committee took the full two hours to debate, and eventually pass, HB 155 – Driving Under the Influence and Public Safety Revisions from Representative Norm Thruston (Republican – Provo). The legislation would reduce the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) from the current 0.08 to 0.05 – making it the lowest rate in nation.
Thurston focused the majority of his time on the safety considerations associated with reducing the number of deaths and accidents that could be reduced by reducing the BAC. A comment supported by Bella Dinh-Zarr, Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, who also estimated that the total number of traffic deaths caused by DUI could be reduced by 11 percent if the new BAC law were put into place.
Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) was concerned about the “weirdness factor” Utah already has as it relates to alcohol policy and wondered if it was wise for Utah to lead out on a more restrictive BAC level as passage of the legislation would only add to this perception in his mind. Thruston countered by pointing out that the legislation has an effective date of December 30, 2018 and that, though Utah might be the first to pass such legislation, he was confident that Hawaii and Washington (who are also considering similar legislation) would implement such laws before Utah, mitigating this effect.
“I don’t know much, but I do know headlines – and the New York Times isn’t going to write about the effective date” Dabakis quipped, adding that this bill ultimately came down to a conflict of cultures between those who drink and those that do not – reminding the group that Utah already has some of the lowest DUI rates in the nation.
During public comment, members of the National Restaurant Association asked the committee to focus instead on more dangerous activities such as texting while driving instead of threatening their patrons; similarly Connor Boyack with the Libertas Institute state that, yes, it is irresponsible for people to drink at a level of 0.08, 0.05, or even 0.02 BAC, but questioned if it was criminal behavior and wondered aloud if Thruston was being disingenuous in focusing on deaths only from alcohol while disregarding other deaths on the road.
Thruston, along with the Senate sponsor of the bill, Stewart Adams (Republican – Layton) who chaired the committee, emphasized that the bill did not present an either/or proposition and that the state could look at other proposals in the future.
Adams would successfully move the bill out with a favorable recommendation by a vote of 4-2 and is now off to the full Senate.