A recommendation last week from the National Transportation Safety Board to state policy makers to lower the blood alcohol content level for DUI arrests from .08 to .05 has drawn mixed reactions in the Top of Utah.
Ogden Police Lt. Kevin Cottrell is in favor of Utah legislators enacting such a measure, saying anything that gives law enforcement better footing in the fight against impaired driving is a positive for the community.
"Anything that impairs your ability to operate a motor vehicle is a concern to us," Cottrell said. "Whether it's a .01 or a .08, anything we can do to help make the roads safer, the end goal is to reduce all accidents and injuries. We would prefer no one drives impaired at all, under any kind of level. If we reached a goal of 0.00, that would be ideal. That's where we're headed, and I think it would be a great thing to happen."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after three beers within one hour, an average 160-pound man would reach the .05 threshold, which would reduce his coordination. Reaching .08, the current legal limit and the level at which the CDC says reasoning and information processing is affected, would take four beers within the same time span.
Ogden DUI attorney Michael Studebaker said alcohol affects everyone differently, and lowering the DUI limit to .05 would unnecessarily leave safe drivers open to an arrest.
"It's frustrating and disappointing," Studebaker said of the NTSB's recommendation. "At .08, regardless of what people think about drinking, many people aren't impaired -- they're fine. That .08 has been established for a number of years, and it is what it is. If we drop it down to a .05, we're looking at realistically your average female, for example, will not even be able to drink one alcoholic beverage."
The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice's 2012 DUI report to the Utah Legislature states the average reported BAC level of a DUI arrest in the state last year was .14, nearly twice the current legal limit. Only 10.2 percent of reported BAC levels of 2012 arrests were within the .08 to .10 range, and only 5.9 percent of those arrested for DUI blew under the legal limit.
Knowing those numbers, Davis County Sheriff's Sgt. Sue Poulsen was unsure how much help lowering the legal limit to .05 would be, given so many of the people arrested for DUI blew much higher.
"Just the difference between .08 and .05, I just don't know how many people we're turning away that we don't consider DUI already," Poulsen said. "So I don't know that it's going to make a huge difference."
Still, Poulsen said she would be a proponent of legislation lowering the limit to .05 because it might reinforce to the public that you don't have to be over the legal limit to be an impaired driver.
"Maybe it will make the public more aware that even a small amount of alcohol does cause some amount of impairment," she said. "Maybe they'll be a little more cognizant of not drinking and driving."
The NTSB's recommendation comes at a time when DUI arrests are trending down across the state. DUI arrests last year decreased 5.7 percent from 2011 and 14.7 percent from 2010, according to the UCCJJ report.
Cottrell said Ogden has seen a similar decline in DUI arrests and attributed it largely to a public that's becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of drunken driving.
"I would assume (awareness) is a big part," he said. "There's a number of campaigns out there, lots of education. They've also increased some of the penalties for DUI to make it more difficult for those who choose to drink and drive to be on the road. But especially the education -- we're reaching people younger."
For Studebaker, however, the increasing effectiveness of current policing methods and drunken-driving awareness campaigns make lowering the legal limit to .05 even more unnecessarily restrictive.
"It's almost like we're taking it back to prohibition ages," he said, "and instead of going to a Constitutional amendment of prohibiting alcohol, we're just going to make it so if you have one beer, we're going to go ahead and jack you up for being impaired while you're driving.
"People are going to stop going places to unwind or have a good time. If you're being safe and appropriate, the government should stay out of your business."
Any legislation in Utah hoping to enact such a measure would take time to craft, and lawmakers would likely face a tough challenge trying to pass it. Still, Studebaker said, Utah actually lowering the DUI limit is possible, though perhaps not probable.
"I would be a little surprised if the government actually goes with a .05, because it's such a low threshold," Studebaker said. "... But I guarantee there's some legislators who would be all over this in a heartbeat."