Gov. Gary Herbert invited the nation’s governors Friday to consider following Utah’s lead and lower the legal blood alcohol content limit for driving from 0.08 to 0.05.
The president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a top official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined in, telling the National Governors Association meeting in Salt Lake City that it would save hundreds of lives a year and prevent much suffering.
“In Europe, countries have it down to 0.05 — or lower,” Herbert said during a wide-ranging discussion about how to improve road safety. “So, around the world, that seems to be a trend.”
He noted that Heineken beer ads have racing legend Jackie Stewart urging motorists never to drink and drive.
Grant Baldwin, director of the CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, told governors that his agency has researched the likely effects if all states adopted Utah’s lowest-in-the-nation 0.05 limit.
“It would save between 600 and 1,200 lives” a year, prevent “just shy of 50,000 injuries and have a direct cost benefit of $34 million,” he said. “These are real numbers, real lives, real people … whose lives would be saved if every state had 0.05.”
MADD President Helen Witty, who had a teenage daughter killed by a drunken driver, said it’s time to lower the BAC limit.
“Impairment is impairment. And 0.05 is impairment," she said. “The data is there now. So it would be wonderful” to lower the limit.
She praised Utah’s action. “Thank you. Thank you for 0.05,” she said. “Thank you for your leadership, governor, and let’s get this conversation growing.”
She said she has talked to officials in Michigan, New York and California who are considering pursuing lower limits.
“We are hoping this will happen,” she said, complaining that drunken driving arrests nationally are down and DUI-related deaths are again rising.
“Drunk driving is still the No. 1 cause of death on our roads," she said. “Each death is preventable and causes ripple effects across families.”
Herbert noted that Utah’s adoption of 0.05 was "not without controversy” and said it is too early to tell how effective it has been. But “it appears that more people are getting on board with ‘if you drink, don’t drive.’ ”
During the first three months of this year, when the new law took effect, it led to the arrest of 49 people who would not have been arrested under the former, higher limit. Overall DUI arrests also increased 4.5% in that period.
Herbert said he also would like to see Utah lawmakers do more to control distracted driving, especially talking on cellphones.
“I am just totally sick and tired of people driving down the road and talking on the cellphone,” he said. “Distracted driving is a big issue. We’re working hard trying to pass a law, but we’re having some issues, surprisingly so.”
Hand-held cellphone use while driving in Utah already is technically illegal — but it can be enforced only if another traffic violation besides speeding is committed. Bills to allow direct enforcement of the cellphone ban fizzle every year amid arguments by some lawmakers that it interferes with personal rights.
Governors also discussed problems with drugged driving in the wake of more states allowing medical or recreational marijuana.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said his state recently took an unusual step that it believes will help: allowing home delivery of marijuana.