Washington bill would lower legal blood alcohol level limit

FILE - House Speaker Pro Tem John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, speaks Jan. 14, 2019, on the opening day of the new session of the Washington Legislature at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. A bill under consideration in Washington state would make it the second state in the country to lower the legal limit for a driver's blood alcohol content from 0.08% to 0.05%. Former state trooper and state Sen. Lovick is sponsoring the bill. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A bill under consideration in Washington would make it the second state in the country to lower the legal limit for a driver’s blood alcohol content from 0.08% to 0.05%.

State Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, is Senate Bill 5002′s primary sponsor. The former state trooper and former Snohomish County sheriff said this week that of the more than 700 people killed on Washington roads last year, over half were DUI-related.

“Our roads are not as safe as they should be, and they are definitely not as safe as they could be,” Lovick said. “I see driving behavior that is beyond anything I could have imagined when I started as a state trooper over 40 years ago ... It is very clear to me that drunk driving is impacting the safety of our communities, and it is time that we do something.”

Across the country and currently in Washington, the legal blood alcohol content limit for most drivers is 0.08%, but limits vary by state for commercial drivers or drivers with past DUI convictions.

Josh McDonald, executive director of the Washington Wine Institute, spoke against the bill this week, saying a change to 0.05% blood alcohol content could turn a "reasonable, modern consumption experience, for both the customer and winery, into a very serious concern,” KUOW reported.

Washington is the second-largest wine producing state with more than 1,000 wineries, according to the Washington State Wine Commission.

Julia Gorton, with the Washington Hospitality Association, also spoke against the proposed change, arguing that there is “no discernable way to recognize signs of intoxication” at the 0.05% level.

Utah’s Legislature voted in 2017 to decrease the legal limit to 0.05% despite similar concerns. Since it went into effect, the number of crashes and fatalities have fallen even though drivers logged more miles, according to research published last year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended last year that all new vehicles in the U.S. be equipped with blood alcohol content monitoring systems that can stop an intoxicated person from driving, saying alcohol-related crashes were one of the biggest causes of highway deaths. The agency encouraged states a decade ago to drop their blood alcohol content levels to 0.05%.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signaled his support for the bill Thursday, saying he's convinced the change would cause people to moderate their drinking and driving behavior.

The bill, which is also sponsored by about a dozen other lawmakers from both parties, moved out of the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Thursday after it was changed to take effect in late December this year, instead of July. It goes next to the Senate Transportation Committee for consideration.