Op-ed: Utah should not buy the fear-mongering of the alcohol lobby
By Andrew McGuire
JUN 21, 2017
The Utah Legislature has enacted an important and lifesaving law to make Utah’s roads safer for families by lowering the impaired driving limit to .05 percent BAC. Yet, this newspaper recently published an opinion piece from Candace Lightner opposing Utah’s responsible law.
Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in 1980 and separated from the organization in 1985. Since then, according to several media reports, including the New York Times, she also has been a paid spokesperson and opponent of tougher drunk driving laws for a national group representing breweries and restaurants. Her current opposition to Utah’s new law is no surprise because of her past opposition to states passing .08 percent BAC laws which, according to countless studies, have saved many thousands of lives and is a major contributor to reducing drunk driving crashes these past 15 years.
Let’s be very clear. Utah’s law is not about reducing alcohol consumption. It is about reducing preventable deaths and injuries. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), our nation’s premiere government transportation safety agency which strongly supports Utah’s law, 100 countries have some type of .05 or lower BAC laws. While the average alcohol consumption in these countries is the same or higher than in the United States their alcohol-related deaths are much lower.
Scientific studies show that at .05 percent BAC, virtually all drivers show signs of significant impairment and decreased driving performance. This includes reduced driving skills and ability to respond to emergency driving situations.
Unfortunately, much of the debate surrounding this law has been caught up in untrue claims about its potential impact on tourism in the state. This is the same tactic used by well-paid special interests representing the hospitality and alcohol industries for years, even decades, to try to stop other common sense and effective laws from being enacted to improve highway safety. Their arguments are not based on science but rather scare tactics.
There are no studies or data that indicate lowering BAC limits reduces alcohol consumption. In fact, a comprehensive 2017 independent research study shows that from 1982 to 2014, in 50 states and the District of Columbia, lowering the BAC from .10 to .08 resulted in a 10.4 percent reduction in alcohol-related fatalities, with no change in alcohol consumption. According to the NTSB, 20 years of international studies have shown that when a country lowers its BAC limits from .08 to .05, alcohol-related fatal and injury crashes decrease by as much as 10 percent.
Utah’s law is an important step in preventing needless deaths and injuries. In 2015, there were 276 highway fatalities in Utah and nearly 20 percent were alcohol-related. We can do more to stop these senseless tragedies. Just as Utah led the nation in passing the first .08 percent BAC law, they are now leading the nation in passing the first .05 percent BAC law.
I have spent the past 45 years of my entire professional life advocating for public health and safety measures that will spare families the heartache of losing a child, a spouse, a family member or a friend because of a preventable injury. That is why in January 1981, only months after it was created, I joined the board of MADD and briefly served as acting executive director in 1983. Thirty-six years later I still believe in and strongly support MADD’s mission to end drunk driving.
In other public health battles I have been involved with, the old adage “money talks” aptly describes the misleading public relations campaign currently being waged by well-funded alcohol and hospitality interests in opposing Utah’s law.
I am proud to stand with Gov. Gary Herbert, the bill sponsors and supporters in the state legislature, as well as organizations from around the state that are committed to protecting Utah families, including the Utah Medical Association, Utah PTA, Utah Sheriff’s Association, Utah Family Policy Resource Center, Utah Prevention Network and many more national public health and safety organizations.
Utah’s new law will help to ensure the safety of families who live in Utah and those visiting from other places. Don’t change the law. Just ignore the fear-mongering campaign being waged by special interests.
Andrew McGuire is executive director of the Trauma Foundation and a consumer board member of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.