Should SC lower the DUI limit to .05?
The federal government, MADD, and other advocates for modern alcohol prohibition are still pushing for a nationwide limit of .05 for driving under the influence (DUI, DWI, OWI) charges. Utah is the first state to fall into line, with its new DUI laws going into effect this month.
Why does the federal government want to force states to lower their DUI thresholds again?
Does it make the highways safer? How much of a difference is there between .05 and .08? Do SC’s citizens want to change the DUI laws again to lower the limit?
Utah Just Became the First State to Adopt a .05 Limit
Utah’s new DUI limit of .05 went into effect on December 30 (just in time for New Year’s Eve), giving Utah the strictest DUI laws in the country. All other states have a legal limit of .08.
Utah, along with Oregon, was also the first state to lower the BAC (blood alcohol content) limit from 1.0 to .08 in 1983. Is Utah the canary in the coal mine that will predict a future shift to .05 in all states?
Why Are We Even Talking About a .05 DUI Limit?
A BAC of .05, for most people, is around two drinks – what many people have during a meal at a restaurant (after which they drive home). Despite the hype coming from federal government agencies and organizations like MADD, the effect of two drinks on a person who drinks socially is negligible.
Depending on the person’s gender, height, weight, and metabolism, one drink could result in a BAC of .05.
Does making it a crime to have one or two drinks before driving make the roads safer?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that over 10,000 people died in “alcohol-impaired-driving accidents” in 2017:
In 2017, 10,874 people in the USA died in alcohol-impaired-driving accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That figure has remained consistently in the 10,000 range – typically 30 percent of total deaths on the road – despite improvements in vehicle technology and use of seat belts that helped decrease the total number of fatalities.
But what is an “alcohol-impaired-driving accident?”
Is that a crash where the driver had a confirmed BAC of greater than .08? Greater than .05? How many of them had a BAC of greater than .15?
Or, is it a crash where any alcohol was involved? Is it over 10,000 traffic fatalities that were caused by alcohol impairment or is it over 10,000 traffic fatalities where any amount of alcohol was detected (whether or not it was the cause of the crash)?
They Don’t Want a .05 Limit – They Want Prohibition
I suspect that the federal government agencies, MADD, and other organizations pushing for lower limits don’t just want a .05 limit – what they want is prohibition.
They know that a “zero tolerance” law will probably not fly in any state in the country, so their long-term strategy is incremental progress. 1.0, then, .08, now push for .05, then the holy grail of prohibition.
For many, the motivation is religious beliefs and morality.
Prohibition advocates know that “it’s a sin to drink alcohol” will not get lower limits passed. But, “highway safety” is unassailable – it’s hard to argue with “highways or dieways, the choice is yours…”
A .05 Limit Will not Make Highways Safer
According to NHTSA, 67% of alcohol-related traffic deaths involve drivers with a BAC greater than .15. But rather than strengthening laws targeting problem drinkers and drivers with excessive BACs, the federal government is pushing for incremental steps towards prohibition.
The American Beverage Institute (ABI) is pushing back (understandably – they represent restaurants, bars, and alcohol companies):
“In reality, .05 will do little to save lives while criminalizing what is now considered perfectly responsible behavior,” said Jackson Shedelbower, communication director for the American Beverage Institute (ABI), a trade group that represents restaurants, bars and alcohol producers. “At that very low level, impairment isn’t even meaningful.”
… Shedelbower said law enforcement should go after heavier drinkers, such as those who register a BAC of .15 and above, a group that accounts for 67 percent of the alcohol-related traffic fatalities, according to the NHTSA.
What is the Effect of a .05 “DUI Limit?”
I don’t think that a .05 limit will make highways safer. What will it do?
It will increase paranoia and distrust of law enforcement for casual, social drinkers. Had a glass of wine with dinner? Now you can drive home looking over your shoulder for police cars even though you know that your driving is not impaired.
It will increase the number of people who are unfairly charged with felony DUIs and sent to prison for years or even decades of their life. If the limit is .05, you can:
- Have a glass of wine or two with dinner;
- Drive home;
- Have an auto accident that was your fault; and
- If someone is injured or killed, go to prison even though your driving was not impaired and alcohol was not the cause of the accident.
And it will give police greater leeway to stop motorists, force them to perform field sobriety tests, possibly search their vehicles, and put them in jail…
What is the “DUI Limit” in SC Now?
Currently, SC’s DUI laws include a “legal limit” of .08:
- There is a conclusive presumption that a person is not under the influence of alcohol if their BAC level is .05 or less (if the laws are changed to a .05 limit, we would be going from a conclusive presumption at .05 that a person is not DUI to putting them in jail because they are DUI – makes sense, right?);
- With a BAC greater than .05 but less than .08, there is no inference that a person is DUI or is not DUI; and
- With a BAC of .08 or greater, there is an inference that the person was DUI.
Will SC Lower the DUI Limit to .05?
When the SC legislature was considering it in 2014, a WMBF news poll found that more than 73% of the people polled were against it.
The Horry County Solicitor pointed out that it would be ineffective in preventing DUI fatalities:
Richardson says the majority of DUI charges his office prosecutes are for drivers with a BAC of .08 to .12.
“So this recommended change in the law would have very little effect on what we see as felony DUIs simply because these people are much less drunk, even by their own breath test; and therefore, much less impaired than someone blowing a .12, .15,” Richardson says.
If the people of SC don’t want it and even prosecutors don’t see the point, why would we lower the limit to .05?
For the same reason that all states lowered their limits to .08 – when the federal government decides that we must lower the limit, they will withhold federal highway funds until the states fall into line.
Myrtle Beach DUI Lawyer
Attorney Daniel A. Selwa is a DUI defense attorney who accepts cases in Myrtle Beach, Conway, Georgetown, and Horry County, SC.