Recently, an event of decent significance came to my attention and it is my view that it warrants discussion. Utah House Bill 155 lowers the blood alcohol content required to be considered a drunk driver. This new standard, signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert on March 23rd, will give Utah the lowest DUI threshold in the country. The following discussion is of fact as well as of my own opinion of the subsequent consequences of this action in Utah.
Implementing plans such as these pose interesting statistical questions. Is the change worthwhile? Does it actually improve safety or does it simply hinder a larger portion of citizens utilizing the roads? Are basic liberties of those not extensively abusing alcohol being threatened? Any legitimate reasoning behind a possible hindrance of freedoms would only be proven with credible statistics pointing to evidence for a substantial reduction in fatalities from drunk driving incidents as the threshold becomes stricter.
A Deseret News report shows that most DUI fatalities in Utah occur well above the previous threshold of 0.8% backed by the public records from the Utah Highway Safety Office. From these statistics, we gather that less than 2.5% of fatal crashes in 2014 involved a driver with a BAC between 0.1 and 0.7, whereas 18% involved a driver with alcohol levels exceeding 0.8%. So what does this tell us?
From the provided information we can see that the majority of fatalities involving alcohol occur when individuals are operating above the previous legal limit. Therefore, it is safe to assume that those people well above the limit will face the designated punishment regardless. The difference this bill will make is on those who previously would have been below the limit while still in responsible enough state even with an existing BAC above 0, to drive the roads soberly. To illustrate just how many more citizen this bill could entrap we must understand the actual factors that affect the individual BAC.
Foremost, I would like you to go to the BAC Calculator and see how many drinks it will take for you to be over the legal limit in Utah after this law takes effect. For example, I weigh 150 pounds and ran the test using Miller Lite. I considered the scenario where I drank three-12 ounce beers over the course of a standard dinner, which I figured to be around 1.5 hours. Using this, my BAC is a reported 0.5599, which puts me above the proposed legal limit of .05 and thus liable for punishment in the state of Utah beginning at the end of 2018. This is concerning. If I was to be driving erratically, where the police officer observed me being a danger to society, then punishment is warranted regardless of a BAC above or below the limit. This concept should then also work inversely. A person with a BAC above the limit who displays full capability of driving as well as an individual who has consumed no alcohol should not be regarded as participating in a criminal act. The purpose of these laws should be to make sure the roads are safe to travel on, free from people who are too inebriated to consciously operate a vehicle safely, not simply to criminalize drinking.
Disappointingly, this does not appear to be the goal of the legislation. Whether it be through perverse incentives, negligence, or malicious disregard, the harm these policies can do to the average citizen in Utah should be disquieting. It is exactly this type of legislation constituents should be concerned with. If the tactic used to sell the bill is emotional, do not hesitate to decry such a policy. Think critically about the facts at hand, and be objective in analyzing any policy proposal. This is not to say that preventative measures to protect the roadways may never be warranted. However, as a citizen who is grounded in the principle of freedom, persist that your government proves the necessity of any bill that could jeopardize that inherent right. Should the government remain the purveyor of roadways, with a delegated role in society of protecting life, liberty, and property, then it should not go against the grain of traditional small-government thought to suggest that there may be some role for the government in assuring the roadways are safe for travel.
With this policy, the issue does not lie in the fact that the government is asserting itself as the protector of the roadways. The issue arises when politicians enact laws such as this, that do not target specific actions that could create a damaged party. Instead, they hide behind the veil of compassion to pass legislation that will hurt citizens that have not infringed upon the property rights of their fellow man. In this situation, we are presented with a choice. Do we sacrifice the liberties of ourselves and our neighbor for the possibility of creating a false sense of security, or do we rise above the fear-mongering and not allow politicians to manipulate our fears to work for their benefit? This policy will necessarily result in more convictions of drunk driving, but does that mean the roads will become safer? Safety should be the goal of legislation such as this, not revenue generation. If this policy lives to see itself become active, we will have done nothing to reduce the danger of drunk driving on the roadways of Utah. Instead, we will have given permission to the government to implement a perverse policy amongst a public shrouded in the idea of greater safety but does nothing to further that objective. Rather it is important that we develop preventative measures to keep dangerous drivers off the road, and not a man who had a few beers with dinner, driving home with a broken taillight.
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