Beginning yesterday, the State of Utah has enacted the strictest drunk driving laws in the country. From this day forward, anyone who causes the death of another by operating their car in a negligent manner with a blood alcohol concentration of .05 or higher will be charged with felony vehicular manslaughter.
Now I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it's okay to get drunk and go driving around town. I think that is something that we can all agree is a bad thing to do. But I do think we need to think of the consequences of lowering BAC levels and ramping up punishments.
If we look at things in a vacuum then we know that someone with any alcohol in their system is going to be impaired to one degree or another. But then we need to look at some other factors. What about the person talking on their cell phone or texting or tweeting or fiddling with the radio or talking with a passenger? What about that driver who is driving on very little sleep and is having trouble keeping their eyes open?
Distracted driving is far more prevalent that drunk driving in this country. And we see it every day on the highway or on the streets.
An alcohol concentration of .05 can be achieved by as little as two glasses or wine or two drinks with dinner. For most folks that's not even enough to get a buzz. Do you really want to move toward lowering the legal limit to that range?
Think of the number of folks you see running red lights, driving too fast, moving in and out of lanes, swerving and driving the wrong way during daylight hours. Do you really believe that each and every one of those folks are intoxicated? But if those folks cause a fatality accident, they won't be subject to nearly the harsh punishment that a person who had two glasses of wine in his system would be.
And that just isn't right. It's an example of politicians picking the low-hanging fruit while looking for an issue to run on. Not everyone lives in a major city with public transportation options or Uber or the like. Not everyone reacts to alcohol in the same manner. We all know folks who are done for the evening after their second drink. But should everyone be judged on the same scale?
Finally, do we really need to look for new ways to charge folks with felony offenses? Are we trying to put more folks under government supervision?
The current batch of pseudo-scientific roadside exercises were devised back when the per se limit in most states was .10. NHTSA then declared - without conducting new research that the tests were good at predicting who had a BAC of greater than .08. What's the game now, Utah? If someone passes the tests are you then going to require a test to determine if their BAC is .05 or greater? If so, why even bother using the roadside exercises in the first place?
Yes, there are horrific accidents every day across this country caused by drivers who are well above the legal limit. Those are the cases that appear on the news. It's important to remember, however, that the vast majority of DWI arrests are based on speeding, failing to signal a lane change, weaving and other minor traffic offenses.
Utah's new DWI law is but the latest example of a solution searching for a problem.