States Are Cracking Down on Drinking and Driving Limits

Utah just enacted the strictest blood alcohol level standards in the country, with other states following suit.
States are lowering the blood alcohol level for legal driving

If you've made a habit out of joining your coworkers for happy hour after work, take note. States are changing their drunk driving laws, and what you thought was a harmless glass or two might be enough to push you over new limits.

Until recently, the limit to drive legally was standard across every state: a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .08%. Above this amount, you were considered legally drunk. This may have led you to believe that if your BAC was less than .08%, your driving wasn't impaired and it was safe for you to drive. But according to the National Transportation Safety Board, impairment begins after just one drink, and after a year of campaigning, it's finally getting states to lower their limits for legal driving.

As of Dec. 31, 2018, Utah became the first state to reduce its blood alcohol level for legal driving to .05%, or the equivalent of one or two recent drinks for a 120-pound person and two or three recent drinks for a driver weighing around 160 pounds. But Utah isn't alone in lowering its limits. At least four more states—including Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington—also have similar bills currently being considered by state legislatures. And other states with high drunk driving statistics—such as Montana, which has a record 8.09 DUI deaths per 100,000 residents—are likely to consider new laws in the future.

These bills have been staunchly opposed by restaurant and beverage industry lobbyists, such as the American Beverage Institute, which contends that the majority of alcohol-related driving fatalities are caused by repeat offenders with a BAC of .15% or higher, and that distracted driving (such as driving while on the phone) poses a greater risk. States agree that distracted driving is a problem, and they're cracking down on that as well, but the beverage industry may be fighting an uphill battle as more states consider lowering their limits, something already in place Canada and other western European nations.

How do DUIs affect your car insurance?

Aside from the obvious legal implications of receiving a DUI or DWI, a conviction can also cost you money. Nationally, drivers convicted of a DUI will face a median increase of 86.5% to their auto insurance premiums, although the exact penalties you'll face will depend on your state. For example, DUIs in North Carolina raise your insurance premium by 409%, while getting one in Wyoming will incur an increase of just 27%.

In many cases, you'll also be required to obtain SR-22 insurance, a form of insurance that proves to the state that you've purchased the required amount of liability coverage, should you harm another person while driving. Typically, you'll be required to carry your SR-22 for three to five years.

And finally, if you've seriously injured another person or damaged their property while driving, or if this isn't your first offense, you could have your license revoked for 6 months up to 2 years.

Daniel Caughill

Daniel is a Staff Writer at ValuePenguin, covering insurance, retirement and other personal finance topics. He previously wrote about compliance and best practices for K-12 school districts at Frontline Education.

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