Utah Tightens Its DUI Legal Limit to 0.05 BAC, Will Arizona Follow?

by Aaron Black • January 17, 2019
Police Office with PBTYou may have heard that Utah became the first state to lower its legal drinking and driving limit three points to 0.05, a limit the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) has for years recommended for all states to reduce crashes, injuries and deaths.

The revised Utah law took effect on the recent New Year’s Eve.

The legislature, comprised primarily of Republicans and Mormons, whose religious teachings instruct members not to drink alcohol, overwhelmingly approved the bill written in 2017 and Governor Gary Herbert signed it into law to take effect the next year.

NTSB member Bella Dinh-Zarr in an interview with a Utah media outlet said, “We’ve recommended a 0.05 BAC in states since 2013 and we are happy that Utah is the first to actually complete this recommendation.”

An AAA Foundation national survey conducted in 2014 found that 63 percent of drivers favored the 0.05 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit. Other agencies, including the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, also favor the lower level.

However, there was significant opposition to Utah’s lowering the BAC limit from the American Beverage Institute that argued states should focus on repeat offenders and those who drink a lot. The owners of bars and restaurants in Utah argued they would lose revenues and opponents argued that the lower limit was targeting those who drink responsibly.

Proponents argue that the revised law doesn’t target all drinkers, just those who decide to drive after drinking and that the lowered BAC serves as a deterrent to drinking and driving.

Utah’s Department of Public Safety has reported that 54,402 DUI arrests for driving impaired were made over the last five years, averaging 29.8 DUI arrests every day across the state.

Utah was also the first state to adopt the 0.08 BAC law in 1983, along with Oregon. Other states considering a 0.05 limit are Texas, with the most DUI deaths a year, Hawaii, New York and Delaware.

History of BAC limits

In 1993 the BAC percentage limit was reduced in the United States from 0.10 to 0.08. In 2000 President Clinton in signing a transportation appropriations bill required states to lower their BAC levels to 0.08 percent within three years to earn federal highway construction money from the federal government. By July 2004 all states had adopted the 0.08 level.

Arizona’s DUI levels

Arizona DUI law has four levels. The 0.08 level is the first. Second is if an officer believes you’re impaired to the “slightest degree” even below that level you can be arrested. Third, the BAC for drivers of commercial vehicles is 0.04. And fourth is 0.00 for under drinking age drivers.

Being slightly impaired differs among individuals because of varying factors. Body weight, age, gender, and how quickly or slowly a person’s metabolism eliminates or absorbs alcohol. And if food was consumed while drinking. Also, people who regularly consume alcohol can develop a tolerance and are able to consume more alcohol.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that one drink is 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor, 12 ounces of beer, and a 5-ounce glass of wine.

Impairment symptoms at various BAC levels

According to the NHTSA these “typical effects” occur at certain BAC levels:
  • 0.02 can cause some judgement loss, altered mood, relaxation and slight body warmth.
  • 0.05 a person can experience exaggerated behavior, reduced coordination, lowered alertness, release of inhibition, and an unusual good feeling.
  • 0.08 limit causes poor muscle coordination such as balance, speech, vision, reaction times and hearing, difficulty to detect danger, judgment, self-control memory and reasoning.
  • 0.10 further deterioration of reaction time and control, slurred speech, poor coordination, slowed thinking.
Beyond those limits the loss of faculties are worse.

Enforcement of the revised DUI law

Utah’s Department of Public Safety is not changing anything in the way they enforce DUI law, which is making arrests on observed impairment, the agency said. “By focusing on impairment instead of a predetermined BAC level, officers will be able to identify and arrest both alcohol-impaired and drug-impaired drivers from Utah roadways,” it said writing on its website.

Will Arizona follow Utah’s lead?

Utah is a conservative state politically and Arizona, although changing, still has a conservative bend on DUI law. It’s uncertain what will happen here but Utah’s step can put 0.05 on the screens of legislatures here and around the nation.

Arrested for DUI in Phoenix, AZ? Protect your rights

A criminal DUI conviction is life changing. If you’re charged with a misdemeanor or felony DUI offense you’ll need an experienced Phoenix DUI criminal defense attorney to ensure your rights are protected and to build a defense.

If you or a loved one are in this situation I invite you to take advantage of my free consultation to hear your side of the story and explain your options. Contact Phoenix DUI Attorney Aaron Black or call 480 729-1683 to schedule your no obligation appointment.