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State's new drunk-driving law has many drivers outraged. Did lawmakers go too far?

Lawmakers in Utah have approved legislation lowering the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers from 0.08 to 0.05, the lowest limit in the nation. (2006 file photo/Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Lawmakers in Utah have approved legislation lowering the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers from 0.08 to 0.05, the lowest limit in the nation, sparking outrage from many drivers in Utah and across the country concerned the new limit could lead to unnecessary arrests and severe punishments for safe drivers.

The new limit will go into effect at the end of 2018.

According to a report by CBS News, the change was inspired by a 2013 recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal government agency.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claims the average 160-pound man would be in violation of the new blood alcohol limit after consuming two alcoholic beverages in just one hour, CBS News reported.

Writing for the Washington Times, Richard Berman — the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm representing the American Beverage Institute — said the new law is unnecessary, poses a threat to responsible drivers, and could be replicated by other states.

“Why should you care about what happens in Utah with their known bias against alcohol consumption?” Berman wrote. “Because in 1983, Utah became the first state to lower its BAC arrest level to .08. After many years and contentious fights surrounding drinking and relative impairment, all 49 other states followed suit. Admittedly, this copycat phenomenon was helped by the threat of losing federal money for a law that was aimed at the wrong people. As is often the case in politics, the desire to say “me too”—not informed judgment—was the impetus behind the momentum. That’s why it’s important to pay attention, even if it’s to Utah’s weird alcohol laws.”

Berman said other actions by drivers, including using cellphones and speeding, are statistically more dangerous than having a blood alcohol level of 0.05.

“For the uninitiated in the arcane world of blood alcohol levels, impairment is a term too loosely defined,” Berman wrote. “Research indicates a .05 BAC while driving is considered less dangerous than talking on a hands-free cellphone or speeding.”

Utah Republican state Rep. Norm Thurston, who sponsored the bill, has said the new requirement is justified because it will deter people from drinking and driving, thereby improving public safety.

"The public safety impact of this is so compelling that it's worth doing," Thurston said, according to CBS News.

When asked about the potential harm caused to businesses who might lose revenue because of the new requirement, Thurston said it’s difficult “to feel too much sympathy” for them.

"It's hard to feel too much sympathy for people whose business model is to profit from people who choose to drink and drive," Thurston said.

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