Traffic deaths in Utah decreased and more drivers said they arranged for sober rides home after the state lowered its impaired driving legal limit. Utah is the first state to drop the legal blood alcohol concentration level from .08% to .05%.
A new study, “Evaluation of Utah’s .05 BAC Per Se Law,”published and released on Friday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), found that Utah’s recently implemented law showed promise because it not only saved lives and improved road safety in the state, it has the potential for even greater impact if similar laws were to be adopted nationwide.
“As our study shows, changing the law to .05% in Utah saved lives and motivated more drivers to take steps to avoid driving impaired,” Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s deputy administrator, said in a statement. “NHTSA conducts research on the effectiveness of countermeasures to improve safety on the nation’s roads, and this study will be a useful tool for other States considering a move to .05%.”
All states but Utah define driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above 0.08% as a crime, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. BAC refers to the percentage of alcohol in the bloodstream: the legal definition of intoxication.
Utah’s fatal crash rate, which measures the number of crashes involving a fatality over total vehicle miles traveled, dropped by 19.8% in 2019, the first year under the lower legal limit. The fatality rate,which measures the number of deaths over total vehicle miles traveled, decreased by 18.3%.
Utah’s drop in crash and fatality rates was a significant improvement over the rest of the United States during the post-implementation year studied, which had a 5.6% fatal crash rate reduction and a 5.9% fatality rate reduction in 2019.
During the same year, the study noted, more than 22% of those who drank alcohol indicated they had changed their behaviors once the law went into effect. The most common change was that drivers said they found safe rides home if they had been drinking.
The federal agency’s study also found none of the economic impacts that had been predicted after lowering the legal blood alcohol level occurred, and alcohol-impaired-driving arrests did not climb sharply after the law went into effect, as some had feared.
“This is a landmark study because it is the very first to show the real-world lifesaving effects of a .05% BAC law in the United States and, even better, it shows that there were no negative effects on businesses or law enforcement,” Bella Dinh-Zarr, senior advisor, Traffic Injury Research Foundation and FIA Foundation, told Forbes. “People with high BACs stopped driving, businesses and tourism did not decline one bit, arrests actually went down, and best of all, many crashes were prevented and lives were saved.”
In Utah, a state with less drinking and driving than other states, “there was an 18% decrease in the fatality rate! This means that other states could potentially have an even greater decrease in deaths if they passed a .05% BAC,” added Dr. Dinh-Zarr, former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
“We have more and more lifesaving technologies now in vehicles,” she said, “but this one simple law could save 1500 lives every single year if every US State passed it.”
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