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Study: Lesser accidents after Utah's strictest DUI law in the US

New research by the U.S. government shows that Utah's drunk driving laws have reduced traffic deaths. The findings were published Friday by an agency.

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Study: Lesser accidents after Utah's strictest DUI law in the US

These findings concern fatalities that involve and do not involve alcohol and provide confirmation to conservative lawmakers who passed it over concerns from the restaurant and tourism lobbyists.

Researchers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that accidents and deaths decreased in years following Utah's change to the threshold for drunk driving.

"Changing Utah's law to.05% saved lives and encouraged more drivers to avoid driving impaired," Dr. Steven Cliff, deputy administrator of the agency, said.

The findings mark a triumph for Utah's Republican-controlled Legislature, which voted to decrease the legal limit in 2017 over concerns that it would discourage prospective new residents and tourists.

Others, including opponents, argued that it would not be effective and would cement Utah's pious image at the expense of growing numbers of residents and visitors who aren’t members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Utah is home to about 60% of Mormons. They have long enforced the strictest liquor laws in the country.

State-run shops sell all spirits and wine. To ensure that they can pour the right amount of liquor into mixed drinks, bartenders must use specialized spouts. Beer can only be sold in grocery shops if it has a lower alcohol-by-volume than 5%

Jackson Shedelbower, American Beverage Institute, responded to the study by stating that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was only providing selective information.

NHTSA cherry-picks data to explain the cause-and-effect relationship. While Utah has seen a decrease in fatalities from alcohol-related traffic accidents since 2016, more than 30 other states have also experienced declines. He said that three other states with small populations experienced greater declines than Utah, but they did not change their 0.08 (blood alcohol content) laws.

Doug Anderson, a church spokesperson, declined to comment on this study. However, he reiterated the faith's position since 2017, when the church stated that the law "demonstrates Utah’s commitment to good policy and to protecting people against the tragedies which come from drinking or driving."

lawmakers claimed that lowering the threshold for impaired driving to.08% from the national standard would make driving safer.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were fewer accidents and less alcohol use after the 2017 law was widely reported and it took effect in 2018.

Utah's first year of the law was 2019 and there were 248 deaths and 225 fatalities. Although drivers drove more, it was still less than 2016's 259 fatal crashes or 281 deaths.

According to the American Beverage Institute (a national restaurant group), a man 150 lbs (68 kilograms) would exceed the 0.05% limit after two drinks. A woman 120 lbs (54 kilograms) could surpass it after one drink.

The fatality and crash rates in neighboring states also dropped, but not as much as in Utah.

From 2016 to 2019, Utah's crashes per mile decreased by 19.8%, which is more than the 5.6% reduction rate for the whole United States.

Between the fourth quarter 2018 and the fourth half of 2019, the drunken driving arrest rate grew from 76 to 85 arrests per 100,000 residents to the Utah law.

Survey data from the study showed that more people who drink alcohol have changed their behavior since the law was in effect.

2018 saw 1 in 8 drinkers say they ensured transportation was available for when they were outside their home. This could be by designated drivers or ride-hailing services. More than one in four people who were surveyed said that they ensured it was available in 2019.

Tourism appears to have not been affected by the revised law on blood-alcohol levels. The new law was in effect in 2018, and saw an increase in alcohol sales and visitor spending. There wasn't any dip. The pandemic was a major challenge for the tourism industry, but it is slowly recovering, data by the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute show.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which supported the lower limit, blasted the industry for "fear-inducing techniques" -- including an American Beverage Institute ad campaign warning prospective Utah visitors to "Come for Vacation, Leave on Probation."

"The study results provide a strong rebuttal against these baseless arguments made in opponents to lower BAC laws," Cathy Chase (the group's president) stated in a statement.

Since 2013, the National Safety Transportation Board encourages states to follow Utah's example. States like Michigan, New York and Oregon have been considering changing their laws. Except for Utah, all other states have a legal limit of.08% for blood alcohol.

Tom Chapman, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, stated in a statement that "The hope is for other states to see these results" and join Utah in adopting legislation for.05.

Utah Rep. Norm Thurston, a Republican who sponsored 2017 legislation, stated that the opposition provided necessary publicity that may have increased its effectiveness, dissuading people from driving while under the influence of alcohol.

He stated that he had spoken with lawmakers from about 10 other states who were interested in similar policies. He said that changing the threshold proved that "there are things we can put into public policy that will alter people's behaviour."

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