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DUWhy?? A College Student’s Perspective of Utah’s New DUI Limit

How many of you like to go to parties on the weekend – maybe even weeknights if finals are getting to you? Same. How many of you usually drive yourselves, feeling safer behind the wheel of your own vehicle than walking late at night, unable to catch an Uber or Lyft in your state of tuition-driven poverty? Me too. Now, just in time for us to be pulling our hair out over finals, Governor Herbert has signed a bill lowering Utah’s DUI limit to a .05 blood-alcohol level, the lowest in the country, foiling all of our young adult plans to reasonably and safely cope with the ending of the academic year. It’s a frustrating display of increased legislative control over the personal agency behind responsible alcoholic consumption and is representative of a certain state-wide ignorance regarding alcohol that will do great harm to more than just us college students.

 

 

The purpose of the law is, supposedly, to deter people from driving after consuming any amount of alcohol in order to save lives that might otherwise be lost to DUI’s. According to a report by the Fox News Associated Press, the American Beverage Institute claims that under this law, “a 150-pound man could get a DUI after two beers, while a 120-pound woman could get one after a single drink.” Representative Norm Thurston, a Republican from Provo who sponsored the bill, states that its passing is important because impairment begins with the first drink, and cites several other countries with DUI thresholds of .05 and lower.

 

Now, I am a 21-year-old college student here at the University of Utah. I have gotten all A’s throughout my academic career, have done several internships and hope to attend law school in the upcoming years following graduation. I also drink on occasion, and feel that I have some grounds to speculate that the Provo sponsor of this bill does not. So, if I, as a reasonable and responsible individual of the legal drinking age, wish to drive to, and attend a party where I anticipate having a couple drinks at 5’10” and 150 pounds with minimal impairment, I feel that I should not have to fear jeopardizing my future with a DUI charge after exercising my agency in a way that does not harm, potentially harm, or take away from the rights of others.

 

 

This bill is no doubt going to deter drinking. The price of a DUI will be too high for too little reward, meaning nobody is going to find it worth it to be arrested without even a buzz to aid in minimizing the frustration of the situation and anticipated consequences. The bill, it seems to me, does not stand on a foundation stable enough to suggest that it isn’t taking away peoples’ rights to agency and making choices that don’t harm others simply because a .05 blood-alcohol level doesn’t lead to cognitive impairments great enough to cause traffic accidents and fatalities. According to an article by Kevin Jenkins featured by USA Today, the law will do little to combat DUI fatalities, because “more than 77% of alcohol-related traffic deaths in Utah come from drivers with a blood-alcohol content of .15 and above.” The bill is targeting the wrong people and the wrong issue.

 

Additionally, the bill is going to harm Utah businesses that serve alcohol, including restaurants, bars, sports arenas and stadiums, concert venues and more. It will also have a major impact on events that draw people from out of state, like the Utah Shakespeare Festival and Oktoberfest, deterring tourism because of laws that out-of-staters don’t understand and see as unnecessary and criminalizing of perfectly responsible fun. People from other states already view our liquor laws as strange, repressive and unwelcoming.

 

 

At the end of the day, lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit of drivers won’t solve the problems stemming from drunk driving. But what it will do is harm those adults who are acting responsibly – adults who stop at one or two drinks and say, “No, I’ve had enough. I have to drive home soon.” If we want to cut down on highway fatalities caused by driving under the influence, we need to focus on encouraging people to take responsibility for their own safety, as well as the safety of others, when determining whether they, or someone they know, is fit to drive a vehicle after consuming alcohol. People also need to become more educated regarding the facts behind alcoholic consumption, understanding that a couple drinks likely isn’t cause for authoritative concern, but maybe four or five drinks warrant some skepticism. And trying to teach people that a drink or two will lead to dangerous levels of cognitive impairment shows frustrating signs of ignorance. It’s insulting, unnecessary and harmful to our state’s economy, reputation and plans to get through another brutal semester of college.

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