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In push to save lives, Oregon Senator wants to lower DUI limit to .05

Posted by on December 27th, 2018 at 12:44 pm

In 1983, Utah was the first state to lower the level of blood alcohol content that would qualify for a DUI arrest when they went from .10 to .08. Then Oregon followed suit.

Now we’re poised to follow Utah again as the second state to reduce the DUI limit even further to .05.

That’s the intention of a bill (PDF) that’s been introduced by Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, which is still in draft form until the legislative session formally begins next month.

A one-pager (PDF) released by Sen. Courtney’s office, says Senate Bill 7 follows a 2013 recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that all states adopt .05. The NTSB reports lowering BAC limits from .10 to .08 led to a 10.4% reduction in alcohol-related fatalities between 1982 and 2014. They also estimate a lowering to .05 would save 1,790 lives a year.

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Chart from the NTSB comparing impacts of BAC levels.

Below are the selling points of this legislation as per Sen. Courtney’s one-pager that’s making the rounds to safe streets advocates and Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) staff (note, they were drafted before Utah passed their law):

• BAC limits have been changed before, and fairly recently. Oregon and Utah were the first states to move from a 0.10 to 0.08 in 1983, Delaware was the last state to adopt 0.08 in 2014.
• Many countries have enacted a .05 BAC limit, including Australia, most of the EU, Hong Kong, Israel, and South Africa.
• A 160-pound man would have to drink 4 alcoholic drinks an hour to reach a BAC of 0.08, verses 3/hour to reach 0.05.
• Drivers with a BAC of 0.05-0.79 are 7 times more likely to be in a fatal crash than drivers with no alcohol in their system.*
• According to the NTSB, lowering BAC limits from .10 to .08 reduced annual alcohol related fatalities by 10.4% nationwide. NTSB estimates a reduction from .08 to .05 would result in an 11.1% decline in fatal crashes.*
• Decreasing BAC limits does not reduce average alcohol consumption.*

In a phone interview with Sen. Courtney this morning, he said the growing distractions inside cars and the prevalence of alcoholism in his family influenced his thinking on the issue. “I’ve had alcoholism on both sides of my family, I fear it more than any other drug,” he said. “I don’t need any studies on this. I grew up with it. There’s this attitude you can drink and drive. You have no damn business behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking. I don’t want to hear it. If you drink, fine. But you better have plans to not drive. You better start walking. You better call an Uber or Lyft.”

The bill as currently written would make one simple amendment to ORS 813.010, changing every instance of “.08” to “.05”. Utah just passed a similar law that goes into effect December 30th.

Lowering Oregon’s BAC level has been a goal of ODOT for years. It’s currently listed as a “Tier 1” priority in the state’s Transportation Safety Action Plan (PDF). That plan reports impaired driving (alcohol and/or drugs) was a factor in 22 percent of all fatal and serious injury crashes in Oregon between 2009 and 2013. That equates to 625 fatalities and 1,087 serious injuries.

And yes, in Oregon bicycle riders can be arrested for DUI.

Lisa Taylor, an assistant legislative director in Sen. Courtney’s office, says they’re seeking public feedback on the bill. She can be reached at (503) 986-1604 or at lisa.taylor@oregonlegislature.gov.

Another place for feedback and debate about this bill will be the Governor’s Advisory Committee on DUII, whose mission is to, “… Generate public support for increased enforcement of state and local drunk-driving laws. Educate the public as to the dangers of driving while under the influence and its effects on life and property.” Their next meeting is on January 4th in Salem.

Sen. Courtney downplays the chances of the bill. “I’m a laughingstock for this. I doubt it will get a public hearing.” He said he expects major blowback from the restaurant and alcohol lobbyists. “That industry is going to fight this, because that’s how they make a living.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Bjorn
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Bjorn

Is there any evidence that a cyclist is more likely to kill someone at 0.05 than at 0.00? While I am not sure that I think that lowering the limit for driving will actually reduce the amount of drunk driving it does seem like there is at least evidence that driving when you have a BAC over 0.05 is dangerous to others I have never seen any such data for cycling. Perhaps this is a moment to finally remove or significantly reduce the criminal penalties for cycling after a couple of beers since it is very clear that it is much more dangerous to drive a car after drinking than to bike.

B. Carfree
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B. Carfree

This is great. Commercial drivers have long been held to a 0.04% BAC standard and since class C vehicles keep getting bigger and heavier, it’s high time (ahem) to upgrade the standard.

We could use an additional change to our drunk driving laws. Currently, convicted drunk drivers get one freebie per decade. Especially in an era of lax enforcement, this is a grave error. We need to incorporate the retraining these drunk drivers get into the initial licensing program and get rid of the freebie.

redhippie
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redhippie

You have to be careful these continual efforts to push the levels lower and lower. Remember that there is a whole DUI industry that the state profits from. Lowering the standard is just creating a larger tax/fee base rather than specific increases in public safety. I would advocate for all fines collected from this rule change be allocated to charities and all fees subject to independent review, thus making it revenue neutral to the state.

GCox
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GCox

Beaverton PD posts the average BAC level each month.
Nov – .12
Oct – .15
Sept – .14
Aug – .14
Jul – .17

With the average being so far above the threshold, and about 1-1.5 arrests/day, it’s impossible that many drivers are busted for driving at 0.08. Since the current limit isn’t being enforced, I don’t see any reason to believe that a lower limit would have a measurable effect.

J_R
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J_R

Since there is almost no enforcement of traffic laws and since DUII convictions produce almost no reduction in drunk driving by the guilty, I’m not sure what this would actually accomplish.

bikeninja
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bikeninja

I am for these changes but they lead to an additional problem with enforcement. Since we don’t have roadblocks, apprehension of drunk drivers ( unless they crash) is dependent on police officers observing erratic and dangerous driving behavior and then pulling the driver over using this observation as cause. But from what I have seen, so many of the current motorists on the street drive in an erratic and dangerous manner all the time. Arn’t the police gonna have a hard time “picking the wheat from the chaff” as they say on the farm?

Toby Keith
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Toby Keith

As long as it goes after weed users too.

Edward
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Edward

This is so bad and … will fail to accomplish anything good. Attempted DUII is already a crime in Oregon. Won’t stop anybody. Won’t change behavior. Just creates a lot of new criminals for the one size fits all criminal-industrial complex.

Enough
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Enough

https://bikeportland.org/event/welcome-to-bike-portland-2
And drinking was encouraged for this event.
Double standards get old.

Mark smith
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Mark smith

Peter is deflecting on his poor record on equality and providing a harassment free workplace. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/sexual-harassment-scandal-reignites-at-oregon-capitol/

This is man bites dog story.

Matthew in PDX
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Matthew in PDX

I support lowering the BAC to 0.02, but I question the data at the top that suggests that you can drink 2 alcoholic drinks/hour and be at 0.02. Advertising in Australia (limit 0.05 for unrestricted license holders) said it would be three drinks in the first hour to get you over 0.05 and one an hour to keep you there – the ads say “rethink your third drink” for men, and “rethink your second drink” for women. 0.02 is used in Australia for probationary drivers and in Japan for all drivers – it basically takes account of the alcohol present in your blood stream as a result of fermentation of sugars in the gut. I favor the 0.02 limit because I don’t want people trying to count their drinks, everyone’s metabolism is different, so the safest assumption is that if you’re drinking or using drugs, you’re not driving or operating other potentially dangerous equipment.

I spent the first 38 years of my life living in Australia, apart from a one year sojourn in New Zealand. State and territory governments in Australia, and the government in NZ take an extremely dim view of impaired driving, and use random breath testing to rigorously enforce the laws. There are no second chances, a first offense will see you hit with a fine and a three month suspension – subsequent offenses can see your license cancelled and you may receive a custodial sentence. The impaired driving laws apply equally to all intoxicants, and all vehicles, although I’ve never seen a bicyclist pulled over by an RBT stop. The governments in Australia and NZ are ultimately responsible for picking up the tab for injuries caused by impaired motorists, so they have strong vested interest in keeping impaired drivers off the road. Speed and red light cameras are used extensively as well. The judiciary supports the governments’ policy positions to keep the roads as safe as possible, so creative arguments about civil liberties receive short shrift in Australian/NZ courts.

My own view is that if you are consuming intoxicating substances, you have no business operating a motor vehicle on the public streets as you are a danger to yourself and others road users. As the government may end up having to support people who are injured through their own recklessness, I am inclined to support the public policy position that the government has a vested interest in stopping people engaging in very dangerous behaviors, such as cycling on roadways shared with motor vehicles while intoxicated – I am less concerned about people cycling drunk on MUPs.

paikiala
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paikiala

As I recall (Utah culture aside), the 0.08 standard for DUII was a Federal ‘suggestion’ that tied future funding to compliance.

Greg Spencer
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Greg Spencer

While I agree drunk driving is more dangerous than drunk cycling, I fully support this bill. It’ll make streets safer for everyone.