On New Year’s Eve, as people across the country raise a glass or two to toast the end of one year and the beginning of another, residents of Utah likely will have to decline that last drink if they want to drive home afterward.
The state plans to impose the country’s strictest limit for alcohol consumption before driving, making the new blood-alcohol limit .05 percent, down from the .08 percent standard nationwide. The measure — slated to take effect Dec. 30 — has prompted some criticism and spurred new training for law enforcement officials, but if it helps reduce drunken-driving deaths, other states could take notice.
“I don’t anticipate other states immediately following,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. But, he said, “if it turns out this has been successful and is having an impact on drunk driving, it’s certainly possible that other states will follow.”
The shift in Utah — the first state to lower its limit below .08 percent — comes as deaths from drunken driving remain a serious danger nationwide. While down significantly during the past three decades amid aggressive enforcement of drunken-driving laws, alcohol-impaired drivers were involved in nearly one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities last year.
More than 37,000 people were killed in crashes in 2017, and more than 10,000 of them — about 29 percent — died in crashes involving drivers impaired by alcohol, defined as those with blood-alcohol concentrations of .08 percent or higher, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Utah, about 19 percent of traffic deaths involved alcohol-impaired drivers, the lowest figure of any state.
Utah has long had restrictions on alcohol, including limits on how strong beer can be and prohibitions against bringing alcohol in from other states, but officials say drinking and driving remains an ongoing problem there.
“Despite decades of public campaigns and other efforts to discourage driving after drinking, survey and observational data show that many people continue to do so,” the Utah Department of Public Safety said in a statement addressing the new law.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed the new law last year, noting that while he had some issues with the measure, it would “save lives, therefore it is good public policy.”