Good Timing on Good Law

Right in time for New Year’s Eve, Utah police took zero tolerance for drunken driving to a new low — .05 percent blood-alcohol level. The message is clear: The state’s legislature and governor believe that drinking and driving in any amount is a threat to public safety. Utah is backed in this by the National Transportation Safety Board, which also has advocated a 0.05 percent impairment threshold. 

The new level is indeed low; it would take about three 12-ounce Budweisers for a 180-pound person to be defined as drunk in Utah, less than two glasses of wine for a 130-pound person. But people vary; one beer is enough to set some lighter drinkers reeling.

No surprise, opposition has come from bars and restaurants — and the American Beverage Institute, whose communications director just this week made the dimwitted claim that since many Utah residents are Mormons, who do not drink, they did not know what they were talking about when they passed the law. What? So one has to be a murderer to pass laws saying murder is wrong? Who knew? 

Anyway, the industry is scared. Between tougher driving-while-intoxicated laws and the creeping legalization of recreational pot, the fear is that consumption could move sharply downward. In the industry’s favor, however, the polling organization Gallup says the share of Americans who drink has been more or less steady since 1939. Police in Utah say that the new 0.05 level will not change the way they work; driver stops will be based on observing signs of impairment. 

From our perspective, reporting on sometimes double-digit D.W.I. incidents each week, a further encouragement for the use of taxis, ride-hailing services, and designated drivers is very welcome. Important, as well, is giving courts a new way to get repeat offenders off the road.