RELIGION

Utah plan would give state strictest DUI limit in US

A state lawmaker wants to make Utah's DUI threshold the strictest in the nation by lowering the blood-alcohol content limit to 0.05 percent.

Though state numbers show alcohol-related driving deaths and DUI arrests are down in Utah, Rep. Norman Thurston said there's more to be done. The Provo Republican plans to introduce legislation lowering the BAC limit from 0.08 to 0.05 when Utah's lawmakers return for their annual session later this month.

The BAC limit for most drivers is 0.08 in all states, but limits vary among states for commercial drivers or drivers who have had a past DUI conviction.

If Thurston's bill passes this year, it would give the state the strictest BAC limit in the nation, but a tough stance on alcohol is hardly new for the majority Mormon state. An estimated 60 percent of the state's residents and most of the state Legislature are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which instructs church members to avoid drinking alcohol.

Thurston said he has received some early feedback from his colleagues and is hopeful his proposal will pass this year and other states will follow suit. A decade ago, another Utah lawmaker proposed lowering the BAC to 0.06, but the proposal never got much traction.

At a BAC of 0.05 percent, a driver may have trouble steering and have a harder time coordinating, tracking moving objects and responding to emergencies, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

That comes from consuming two to three beers in an hour for a 160-pound man, though a number of factors, including gender, weight and how much food in someone's stomach all affect how much a drink will raise someone's BAC.

For several years, the National Transportation Safety Board has encouraged states to drop their BAC levels to 0.05 or even lower, though local officials have not adopted the standards. It took years for all states to lower their BAC to 0.08, amid criticisms from the hospitality industry that the stricter limits punish responsible drinkers.

Groups such Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have declined to endorse proposals to lower the BAC to 0.05. MADD has said that lowering the threshold could cut deaths, but that would be years in the future and pursuing it would distract from their efforts to change other DUI laws.

Thurston, who runs the health care statistics office in the Utah Health Department, notes that 0.05 BAC limits are common in Europe and in the U.S. the limit for commercial drivers is generally 0.04 percent.

Most importantly, Thurston said, the law would send the following message: "This is a state where we take this seriously and you just don't drink and drive here."