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Lowering the limit to 0.05 may lead to unjust DUI arrests in Utah

A new report from the National Transportation Safety Board recommending that states lower the legal blood-alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05 has led to a great deal of debate in Utah as well as in other states. The NTSB and some other observers believe that lowering the legal limit would reduce the number of injuries and fatalities in DUI accidents. While that may be a noble goal, others question whether such a low legal limit would do more harm than good.

One point of criticism is that the majority of people arrested for drinking and driving are already well above the current limit. The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice reported to the Legislature in 2012 that the average BAL for a DUI suspect was 0.14. It would seem, therefore, that reducing the limit would not greatly affect the number of drunk drivers being prosecuted.

Instead, some critics say, such a change would lead to people being targeted for arrest and prosecution even when they are not impaired. Under a 0.05 BAL limit, many women would be considered "intoxicated" after just one drink. One attorney compared the push for a 0.05 limit to a sort of back-door Prohibition to try to make it essentially illegal to have a beer or glass of wine with dinner or when socializing.

Interestingly, the NTSB proposal comes as DUI arrests are dropping in Utah. The number of arrests dropped nearly 15 percent from 2010 to 2011 and a further 5.7 percent the next year. With police and prosecutors still aggressively pursuing charges, it is likely the drop is due to people making good decisions about not driving after drinking.

Source: Ogden Standard-Examiner, "More draconian Utah DUI proposal sparks debate," Bubba Brown, May 20, 2013

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