State lawmakers try again to lower legal blood alcohol limit for DUIs

Jan 26, 2024, 7:12 AM | Updated: 9:13 am


A breathalyzer test. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

State lawmakers will make another attempt to lower the state’s legal blood alcohol limit to 0.05 from the current 0.08. Only Utah has made a similar move.

House Bill 2196 and Senate Bill 5002 propose lowering the limit and mandate a public education campaign to inform citizens of the new change in an effort to modify driver behavior.

Under the current law, a person is deemed to have committed the crime of DUI if they operate a motor vehicle with a breath or blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. For marijuana, a DUI threshold is a THC concentration of five nanograms or higher.

The House version is similar to the Senate version, which is akin to the version that never passed out of its designated committee in early 2023. This is, essentially, a reintroduction with many asking what the difference is.

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During HB 2196’s hearing before the House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee Thursday, there was a particular emphasis on the public relations campaign funded in part by the federal government.

Support, opposition of the blood alcohol bill voiced

One member of the committee questioned why the state doesn’t simply educate people about the current drunk driving laws.

“I guess I’m a little bit confused if this is mostly education and changing attitudes,” Rep. Darya Farivar, D-North Seattle, said.

Supporters, like Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste, far outnumber opponents during the public testimony.

“This issue is not new. It has been studied heavily throughout the world for many years. In fact, in the ’60s, the BAC level was as high as 0.15. In 1979 it was 0.10; each time it has been lowered, it has saved lives. And that is the point behind this,” Batiste said.

Trent House spoke on behalf of the Washington Hospitality Association, echoing arguments against the bill that were made last year.

“Lowering the threshold puts additional burdens on the operator and the employees of our establishments. At 0.05, there is no discernible way to test for impairment. There is at 0.08 but not at 0.05, and we will be held liable at a standard that we cannot objectively test,” House said.

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The bill also introduces three key features:

  • Public information campaign: The Washington Traffic Safety Commission is mandated to develop and implement a comprehensive public information campaign related to the changes brought about by House Bill 2196. The campaign will include television, radio, online and print advertisements. Also, content will be provided in the nine most significant non-English-speaking languages in the state, ensuring that the message reaches a diverse audience.
  • Evaluation of impacts: The Washington State Institute for Public Policy will conduct a thorough evaluation of the impacts of House Bill 2196 during the first two years of its implementation. A comprehensive report is expected to be submitted in October, shedding light on the effectiveness of the new regulations.
  • Legislative findings: They have been added to the Alcohol Beverage Control title to explicitly state that nothing in the act may be construed to change current civil law regarding the civil liability of a licensed commercial vendor or quasi-commercial vendor. This inclusion seeks to clarify the legal landscape and prevent any unintended consequences on liability issues.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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