NTSB recommends lowering blood alcohol limit

Posted at 9:53 PM, Nov 25, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-26 00:52:46-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- It could be easier for Utahns to get a DUI while drinking less.

The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending that all 50 states lower the legal blood alcohol limit from .08 to .05. Last month the NTSB presented its findings to the Utah Legislature and some legislators were intrigued.

Right now no legislative bill has been drafted.

This issue has drawn some extreme opinions in Utah. On one side, you have social drinkers in Utah who feel like .08 is low enough and this is another thing that would hinder the state's social reputation, especially when it comes to tourism.

The other side of this issue says it's about saving lives.

FOX13's Annie Cutler put one Utah couple to the test for a first-hand look at what a few drinks can mean for blood alcohol content levels and the impact it could have if the limit was lowered.

Married couple, Gavin and April, enjoy eating out – for this story they agreed to a breathalyzer test after a date night at the Bayou in Salt Lake City.

The night started out with Gavin ordering a locally brewed draft beer and April her favorite white wine.

The couple says it's not uncommon for them to enjoy a couple of drinks when they eat out. With the current legal blood alcohol limit at .08, both say they feel comfortable having a drink or two and driving home.

"Sometimes we'll have a drink at the beginning, you know, eat, then we'll have a drink with dinner, a drink or two with dinner and then we stay and chat, socialize for a while," April said.

Gavin said he knows if he had more than four beers he shouldn’t drive.

“But I can definitely get away with two or three over three hours and feel confident about driving, Gavin said.

It doesn’t take long for Gavin and April to finish their drinks. They order their food and another drink with their meal.

Bayou owner, Mark Alston, said he thinks the idea to lower the BAC limit is excessive and unnecessary.

"I think it is a good intention but a really bad idea," he said. "If we get to the point where if you have a sip of alcohol and you aren't allowed to be in the public view at all then people are just going to go, 'This is ridiculous,' and ignore the whole thing instead of being smart and taking care of themselves."

It's been two hours since Gavin and April had lunch and two alcoholic drinks. FOX 13 breathalyzed them using a consumer breathalyzer.

Gavin was tested first.

After two drinks, he blew a .04, under the current .08 limit and also the proposed .05 limit.

"If that law would have changed I probably wouldn't risk it,” Gavin said. “Too close for comfort."

April was tested next.

She blew a .14

"I wouldn't have guessed that two glasses of wine with food would do that," April said.

Lower blood alcohol limit or not, April would be in serious trouble.

Unified Police Detective Ken Hansen also assisted in the story by issuing a field sobriety test and breathalyzer on April.

With the police-issued breathalyzer, April blew a .054.

Hansen said officers look at a number of things, in addition to blood alcohol content, when determining impairment behind the wheel.

"We look at the whole picture in terms of their driving pattern, how they do on the field sobriety test and how they measure up on the blood alcohol test," he said.

The Sutherland Institute -- a conservative think tank in Utah - is behind the push to lower the legal limit. They say, far too often, there are graphic images of people killed on the roads by drunk drivers.

They believe a lower .05 limit will save lives.

Policy Director Derek Monson said, "Whether it’s the research on the issue of lowering blood alcohol content, when we lowered it from .10 to .08 or seeing other countries and areas lower the blood alcohol content from .08 to .05 in practice – it leads to fewer people being killed on the roads by impaired drivers and fundamentally what it boils down to, that’s what it’s about."

More than 100 countries on six continents have blood alcohol limits at .05 or lower including Switzerland, Italy, Hong Kong and Germany to name a few, according to the NTSB. Other countries like China, Sweden and Poland have a limit of .02.

We're seeing a national and local push to lower the legal blood alcohol limit that constitutes drunk driving. The national standard is .08, but some organizations want it lowered to .05.

According to NTSB, nearly 10,000 people die in alcohol-related traffic accidents and 170,000 are injured each year. Currently, Utah has the lowest average alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in the country.

The last time Utah lowered the legal blood alcohol limit was in 1983. It took another 21 years for all of the states to follow suit.