Lower blood alcohol level? CT lawmakers consider compromise bill

With Connecticut on pace for another record year of deadly drunk driving crashes, state lawmakers are once again considering a drastic measure – lowering the blood alcohol content to .05.

John Craven

Mar 13, 2024, 9:33 PM

Updated 36 days ago

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With Connecticut on pace for another record year of deadly drunk driving crashes, state lawmakers are once again considering a drastic measure – lowering the blood alcohol content to .05.
It’s been a tough sell in the past. But this year, they’re looking at a compromise.
“IT WAS BAD”
Connecticut has one of the highest drunk driving rates in the nation, but you don’t have to tell Greg Gonzalez that.
“It was bad,” he said.
Gonzalez’s mother, Margarita, was killed in a violent hit-and-run in Stamford. The driver, Yolanda McDowell, was both drunk and high, according to police. She was sentenced to a decade in prison for reckless manslaughter in 2015.
“This is a lady that comes around and then goes to cross and boom, hit her and killed her,” Greg Gonzalez said.
PUSH FOR LOWER BAC
State lawmakers heard two plans to address the drunk driving crisis during a public hearing on Wednesday.
One bill would lower the legal Blood Alcohol Content from .08 to .05.
“We have to send a message that we will not accept it any longer,” Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto told the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. “The science is clear; you are impaired at .05.”
So far, only Utah has dropped its BAC to .05. According to a 2022 National Transportation Safety Board report, that state saw a 19.8% reduction in fatal crashes from 2016 to 2019 – and bars actually made more money because customers stayed later and used a ride-sharing app to get home.
“Utah’s experience is a real success story,” NTSB member Thomas Chapman testified. “Utah saw reductions in crash rates and alcohol involvement in crashes, while there was no negative impact on alcohol sales, tourism, tax revenues.”
TOO FAR?
Despite Utah’s success, lowering the BAC is controversial in Connecticut. For some drivers, .05 could be as little as one drink.
“I think that's pushing it,” said Maria Padilla, of Norwalk. “I’m not a big person and if I have a glass of wine at dinner, I should be able to take myself home.”
Public pushback killed a similar bill last year. Some lawmakers are still on the fence.
“We all agree – you lower the limit, you're going to have less fatalities,” said state Rep. Tom O'Dea (R-New Canaan). “The question becomes, what number you come at.”
COMPROMISE BILL?
To allay concerns, lawmakers are also considering compromise legislation this year.
Instead of DUI, drivers who test between .05 and .08 would face a lesser charge called driving while ability impaired. Eucalitto said it would be more like a traffic ticket, with violators paying up to a $200 fine for the first offense and having to take a driver safety class.
“We wanted to provide the committee with options, because what we have been doing as a state has not been working,” he told lawmakers.
Padilla said it’s a compromise she could support.
“That's a good middle ground,” she said. “That will scare people a little bit, just to not do it again.”
But other drivers think a moving violation won’t deter drunk drivers.
“There’s too many people drinking and driving now,” said Dean Martin, of New York City. “People that shouldn't be driving after one or two drinks."
Greg Gonzalez also wonders if it's enough to prevent someone else from suffering the ultimate loss.
“Don’t drive like that,” he said. “Because you’re going to drive like that, you’re going to kill somebody.”
WHAT’S NEXT?
You can submit written testimony here. The Transportation Committee has until March 22 to vote on both bills.


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