Study: Lower Blood Alcohol Limit Reduced Traffic Fatalities in Utah

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A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that Utah’s law reducing the legal blood alcohol limit allowed while driving has lead drivers to arrange a safer way home and has decreased traffic accidents and fatalities.

A study conducted and released last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that after Utah passed a law reducing its impaired driving blood alcohol level limit to .05%, the state experienced a decrease in traffic fatalities and an increase in drivers arranging for “sober rides home.” According to an NHTSA press release, the state’s fatal car crash rate “dropped by 19.8% in 2019, the first year under the lower legal limit, and the fatality rate decreased by 18.3.” As the NHTSA explains, the first figure describes fatalities per vehicle miles traveled, while the second describes “the number of crashes involving a fatality over total vehicle miles traveled.” 

Those reductions stand in significant contrast to the rest of the country, which in the year after the lower limit’s implementation enjoyed a fatal car crash rate reduction of 5.6% and a fatality rate reduction of 5.9%. In a statement about the study, the NHTSA’s deputy administrator said: “Utah typically has one of the lowest rates of impaired driving fatalities in the nation, but this study shows that all states have room for improvement. As our study shows, changing the law to .05% in Utah saved lives and motivated more drivers to take steps to avoid driving impaired. NHTSA conducts research on the effectiveness of countermeasures to improve safety on the nation’s roads, and this study will be a useful tool for other States considering a move to .05%.”

The study also found changing driver behaviors as a result of the lower BAC limit. Specifically, it determined that at least 22% of residents who consumed alcohol “indicated they had changed their behaviors once the law went into effect,” for instance by seeking a sober ride home when they had been drinking. It also found that arrests for alcohol-impaired driving did not rise after the new limit’s implementation, just as “economic impacts that had been predicted” did not come to pass as well.

More information about the effects of the lower blood alcohol limit in Utah is available via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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