In 2017, Utah became the first state to lower its legal limit from 0.08% to 0.05%. The move was controversial. For example, business interests feared that a lowered limit would cut into alcohol sales. Other safety experts expressed doubts that reducing the legal limit would really reduce the number of drunk driving accidents. Utah, however, liked to pioneer in this area. In fact, they were the first state to lower the statewide BAC limit from 0.10% to 0.08% back in 1983. Other states followed them in the 1980s—but none have yet followed their lead and lowered the BAC limit to 0.05%.
More than five years later, we have sufficient evidence to test whether the reduction has improved road safety. According to a blog post at Route Fifty, Utah has seen a drop in the number of fatal accidents since the new law went into effect. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board is encouraging other states to follow Utah’s lead. Will Texas?
A Drop in Road Deaths
To test the effect of the law, researchers with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) compared the number of deaths on Utah’s roads in 2019 (when the law went into effect) compared to 2016 (the last year before the law was passed). Researchers found a reduction in the number of road deaths in the state, even though people were driving more in 2019 than 2016.
In fact, the drop was more pronounced than the decrease in road deaths throughout the entire country. Specifically, the fatality rate in Utah fell by 18.3% compared to a 5.9% drop nationally. Essentially, Utah garnered a reduction that was three times as large as the rest of the nation. Utah’s drop was also larger than any seen in its neighboring states.
Intriguingly, the state did not engage in any messaging campaign to notify the public about the new law. They also did not increase the number of drunk driving arrests for this period. Perhaps the public simply got the hint that they should not drink as much because the odds of a DWI conviction increased with the lower legal limit.
NHTSA credits the lowered limit with saving countless lives. And other federal agencies are promising to push aggressively for other states to adopt a lowered legal limit to improve public safety.
Will Texas Follow Utah’s Lead?
The Lone Star state has amped up the fight against drunk driving over the past year. For example, the state’s Department of Transportation has initiated a major public relations campaign to illustrate the human cost of drunk driving accidents. Some cities (like Galveston) have also amped up enforcement and increased the number of arrests dramatically. And Texas has also passed a law forcing some drivers convicted of intoxicated manslaughter to pay child support if they end up killing a parent.
Lowering the legal limit would be in line with these actions. Each state sets its own legal limit, which is currently 0.08% in Texas. Perhaps Texas will soon lower our legal limit to 0.05%.
Industry Experts Warn Against Lowering the Limit
Industries have pushed back against agency claims that Utah’s lowered limit is responsible for the drop in deaths. For example, the American Beverage Institute has noted that other states had larger decreases than Utah’s—even though they maintained 0.08% as their BAC limit. The hospitality industry fears that lowering the limit will cut into sales, and they allege that a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05% is no more risky than other driving behaviors, like using a hands-free cell phone. Even worse, a small woman could be over the limit with only one alcoholic beverage.
Nonetheless, other states are considering following Utah. Legislators in New York, California, and Hawaii are considering similar bills—but not as yet Texas. We will keep you posted on whether our state house starts making noises about lowering the legal limit.
Contact Us if You Are Arrested for DWI
Even without lowering the BAC threshold, Texas law enforcement has many tools available to combat drunk driving. Stepped up patrols and aggressive prosecutions have caught many drivers who got behind the wheel after having one too many.
Please reach out to our law firm if you’ve been pulled over. Of course, you can face charges regardless of your BAC, if your normal faculties are impaired. Still, blowing a high number makes it easier for the police to convict you and harder to defend. Contact us today to speak with an experienced Houston DWI attorney in a free consultation.