Utah's extraordinary new DWI law and what it will mean for Missouri drivers

Last week, the Utah legislature voted to limit drivers to a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05%, which would make the state the first in the union to adopt this lower BAC standard for their DWI laws. Governor Gary Herbert (R) is expected to sign the bill, which would reduce the current limit from .08% and make Utah the most restrictive state in America for those who consume alcohol and then choose to drive.

The BAC limit of .05% is currently the standard for a number of countries in Europe (France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Switzerland among others) and has been for many years. Penalties for driving with a BAC above the legal limit in these countries are harsh by American standards with penalties occasionally involving multi-year revocations of drivers licenses as well as mandatory jail time even for some first-time offenders.

Now that Utah has finally broken this legal barrier, what will this mean for Missouri and other states? I think we can ultimately expect a push from the federal government to mandate the remaining states to also change their existing DWI laws to restrict their drivers to a .05% BAC limit or less. This will almost certainly be done by directly tying federal highway funding to a corresponding change in each state's DWI laws. In other words, the federal government will simply notify states that if they want to continue to receive federal funding for their roads, highways and bridges, then they will adopt the new BAC standard or else face the loss of funding. State legislators will quickly recall that their state is absolutely dependent upon this funding for their infrastructure and will move to adopt and enact the new standard. It is simply a matter of time before this profound change in DWI laws comes to Missouri.

Proponents of BAC limit reductions claim that it will reduce the number of intoxicated drivers, and subsequent accidents and fatalities, on our roads because the lower BAC standard will act as a deterrent to those considering consuming alcohol and then driving. Opponents of these changes believe that it will do little in regard to safety because a significant majority of drunk drivers who cause accidents and fatalities are often found to have BAC's of .15% or higher. Time will tell as to which side has a better understanding of the effect, if any, that a new BAC standard will have on drivers' habits. Regardless of who is correct, be assured that Utah is setting a new course that will one day impact Missouri drivers and DWI laws for years to come.