Starting in the new year, Utah will be the first state to have a legal drinking and driving limit of .05. The previous limit in Utah was .08, which is the legal limit in Michigan and the rest of the country.
How Much is .05?
A .05 could be about three drinks. It all depends on the person. Either way, it’s less than .08, which is about 4 drinks. Either way, a BAC of.05 is less than .08, by about 1 – 1.5 drinks.
What Does This Mean Legally Speaking?
This means a driver in Utah is presumed intoxicated with a blood alcohol level of .05, regardless of whether the person’s driving is impaired. In Michigan, a person is presumed intoxicated with a blood alcohol level of .08 – even if the person is driving fine.
A Michigan driver can be in trouble for operating while intoxicated (OWI), the standard drinking and driving charge, in one of two ways. A person could be convicted of an OWI if the person has a blood alcohol content of over .08 or if the person’s driving is substantially effected by alcohol. This means a person could be under .08 and be convicted of drinking and driving.
A person could also be convicted of operating while visibly impaired, a lesser drinking and driving offense which means a person was driving with less care than an ordinary driver because of alcohol.
Either way, you don’t see a lot of people in Michigan courts charged with an OWI with a blood alcohol content of .08 or lower. This is based on my own anecdotal evidence rather than any quantification, which I don’t believe has ever been done in the Michigan district courts.
Would a Lower Legal Limit Mean More Arrests?
Yes, a lowered legal limit would mean more arrests. A person pulled over for any reason will go to jail if they register a blood alcohol content of .08 or over.
When there is a big drinking night, or a weekend, the police will simply pull over as many people as they can. The police only need evidence of a civil infraction to pull someone over. So a person going 72 on the highway could be pulled over for speeding without any real bad driving. The police can basically pull anyone over if they want.
The police will pull over a lot of people because they are looking for people drinking and driving. If the person hasn’t been drinking, then the police just let them go on their way, maybe with a ticket. However, if the police pull over a bunch of people after 11:00 p.m. on a Friday night, then some of those people will undoubtedly be drunk drivers.
Were the legal limit lowered to .05, then more people will go to jail after being pulled over. This is because a lower limit increases the number of people who can be arrested for operating while intoxicated. (Although advocates for a lower limit would argue that a .05 limit would deter more people from driving after drinking, reducing the number of potential drunk drivers).
Will the Lower Limit be a Trend?
Utah was also one of two of the first states in 1983 to lower the legal limit from .10 to .08. So perhaps Utah is at the front of a new trend to lower the legal limit across the board. Many countries have a legal limit of .05 or lower, including Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.
Those in favor of lowering the limit argue that a .05 limit will lead to a decrease in traffic fatalities caused by alcohol.
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Sam Bernstein is a DUI lawyer in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.