VT: Should Vermont lower legal limit for drunken driving?
By Don Amato
January 16, 2020
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont lawmakers are looking at lowering the legal limit for drunk driving. Right now, your blood alcohol content must be below 0.08 before you hit the road. But two senators say they support lowering the BAC limit to 0.05. Our Dom Amato found out what impact the lower limit would have on drivers and what’s behind the idea.
The bill would lower the legal alcohol limit for the first time in nearly three decades.
It was introduced by a lawmaker in his first term in the Statehouse and by veteran Chittenden County Democratic Sen. Debbie Ingram. She says she co-sponsored the bill due to her own past experience with drunk driving.
“I am a recovering alcoholic,” she said.
Ingram wants to do more to combat drunk driving in Vermont. She was charged with DUI in 2017 and completed a 12-step treatment program. Police say her blood alcohol level was double the current 0.08 legal limit.
“I take responsibility for what I did,” she said.
She’s now co-sponsoring a bill to lower the legal blood alcohol content limit from 0.08 to 0.05 along with Sen. Andrew Perchlik. As a parent, he says he’s worried about his young drivers’ safety on the road.
“So if we can save more lives and reduce more harm by just lowering the amount people are drinking when they think they can drive, that’s a good thing,” said Perchlik, D/P-Washington County.
The National Transportation Safety Board estimates the lower limit could save at least 1,700 lives per year in the U.S.
In Vermont, there have been six or fewer fatal drunk driving crashes in five of the last six years, and according to the most recent data available, police make about seven DUI arrests per day in Vermont.
“I’m hopeful that it just gets the conversation started,” Perchlik said.
The American Beverage Institute says this law may impact responsible people who just go out to dinner for a drink or two. And at least one bar in Montpelier says it would be detrimental to their business.
Federal officials say the average-sized person would have a BAC of around 0.02 after two drinks. It would take more than that to surpass the 0.05 threshold. But legal experts say actual impairment depends on the person.
“Zero-point-zero-eight is really about the DUI conviction, but you can be pulled over even if you are under the influence of much less,” said Dan Richardson, a Montpelier-based lawyer.
Richardson says Vermont was one of the last states in the U.S. to change the legal limit from 0.10 to 0.08 after a nationwide push in the 1990s. Now, he doesn’t believe that the same momentum exists to reduce it further.
“I don’t think that there’s the same sort of societal push that there was back in the ’90s,” he said.
Utah is the only state in the U.S. to have its legal limit at 0.05. Federal officials say there are more than 100 countries around the world that have some type of 0.05 or lower BAC laws and while their average alcohol consumption is the same or higher than the U.S., their alcohol-related crash deaths are lower.