State lawmakers introduce bill to lower BAC threshold for DUIs

Feb 28, 2022, 12:44 PM | Updated: 1:03 pm
4/20, DUI...
(Washington State Patrol)
(Washington State Patrol)

A coalition of Democrats in the Washington Legislature introduced a new bill Friday that would lower threshold under which drivers would be penalized for a DUI.

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Under the state’s current laws, a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) must be under 0.08%, consistent with the federal limit. The update proposed by Democrats in the state Senate would lower the BAC limit to 0.05%.

The bill points to how 2021 was “the deadliest year on Washington roads since 2006” as the prime motivation for the lower limit, with 540 fatal collisions killing over 600 people statewide. It goes on to note that “half of all serious and fatal crashes are caused by driver impairment from drugs and alcohol,” with Washington experiencing “a 31.3% increase in crashes as the result of an impaired driver between 2020 and 2021.”

“This alarming upward trend must be addressed if Washington state is going to meet its goal of target zero,” the bill reads, citing an initiative to reduce traffic deaths in Washington to zero by 2030.

Currently, Utah is the only state with a BAC limit at 0.05%, having made the change in 2019. Every other state goes by the 0.08% federal standard.

The bill points to encouraging data from Utah since it lowered its BAC threshold, after the state’s rate of fatal crashes dropped by nearly 20%, while 22% of drivers who drank alcohol reported changes in their behavior.

Nearly-dead DUI bill moves to the governor’s desk

“The legislature further finds that this is a well calibrated policy based on evidence that shows if all states implemented a .05 blood alcohol concentration level, 538 to 1,790 lives would be saved each year, and alcohol-related fatalities would decrease by 11.1 percent overall,” it estimates.

Attempts from lawmakers to crack down on DUIs in Washington have stalled out in past sessions. That included a two-year push to increase the penalties for multiple offenders, and extend the look-back period from 10 to 15 years to allow prosecutors to determine whether a fourth DUI over that number of years could qualify as a felony. That proposal failed to pass in both of the last two legislative sessions.

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State lawmakers introduce bill to lower BAC threshold for DUIs