Washington State Considers Lower BAC Limit as DUI Fatalities Increase

In 2023, Washington State saw a rise in fatal accidents involving drunk drivers. In response to the increase, legislators are considering a decrease in the state’s maximum allowable blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. 0.08 BAC is the current limit in Washington State—and across the country—but the newly proposed legal update would drop that limit to 0.05 BAC.

Increase in DUI Deaths Across Washington State

DUI accident fatalities have increased steadily in Washington State over the last few years:

  • 2021: 345 traffic fatalities involved intoxicated drivers
  • 2022: 389 traffic fatalities involved intoxicated drivers
  • 2023: ~400 traffic fatalities involved intoxicated drivers

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission sees the steady rise as a clear sign that something needs to change now to make Washington’s roads safer. Its solution would be to drop the BAC limit to 0.05, which it has outlined for legislators. According to Commission Director Shelly Baldwin, “0.05 will save lives. It does so mostly because people will change their behavior.”

The underlying idea is that people will pay more attention to how many drinks they’ve had before getting behind the wheel if the legal limit is almost 50% lower than it was before. For an average adult male, drinking four alcoholic beverages within two hours will cause them to reach a BAC level of 0.05. The law would encourage people to realize they have reached that many drinks in that amount of time and decide to stop or make sure they have a designated driver arranged.

Public Education for Responsible Driving

Of course, expecting the average person to know on their own that three or four drinks would be the new “safe” limit might be asking too much, at least early into the legal changes, should they pass. For this reason, the bill would also kickstart a public education campaign managed by Washington Traffic Safety. Online, television, radio, and even newspaper ads in several languages would inform people about the legal updates and potentially important facts about BAC levels and responsible drinking.

With the awareness campaign tied into the proposed law, numerous prominent parties have decided to support it. Governor Jay Inslee, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the National Safety Council (NSC), the Washington State Department of Health, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have all shown their support. A similar bill stalled last session, but this bill might have enough support and momentum to pass.

Are There Downsides to the Proposed BAC Law?

Opponents of the bill mainly worry about the improbability of knowing if someone has reached 0.05 BAC. Typically, when someone has reached a BAC level of 0.08, they begin to exhibit telltale signs of intoxication, like slurred words, unsteady movements, brain fog, and reddened nose or face. At 0.05, though, the outward indications may be much milder or altogether absent. As a result, opponents say, thousands of people each year could unknowingly break the law by getting behind the wheel while testing at or slightly above 0.05, even though their safe driving ability was not measurably impaired. Along the same lines, some legislators worry that businesses that sell alcohol like bars and wineries would be at an unfair dram shop law risk because they might sell alcohol to someone who was showing no signs of intoxication yet was technically above the BAC limits.

Another argument against dropping the BAC limit reduction is the fact that it is arguably unnecessary. Washington State law already allows people to be arrested for a DUI if their BAC is below 0.08 but their driving ability was seemingly impaired by drugs or alcohol.

DUIHeroes Weighs In

At DUIHeroes, one of Washington State’s most trusted DUI defense law firms, we pay close attention to DUI legislation and related laws. While we want to see DUI accidents decrease, of course, we also understand the importance of keeping DUI laws fair and effective. Lowering the BAC limit by so much could result in more people losing their driver’s license when it isn’t justified and can do more harm than good.

Attorney Kaia Kopitnik of DUIHeroes shared her insight into the matter by saying, “Although the motivation behind this legislation is honorable, it fails to address the root of the problem it seeks to solve. The majority of DUI-related collisions and traffic fatalities we come across involve individuals with a reported BAC well above the current limit of .08. By reducing the limit to .05 we are likely to see an increase in arrests and license suspensions for individuals who may not actually be impaired while seeing little to no impact on the issue of DUI related collisions and traffic fatalities. Focusing our community resources on creating access to affordable treatment programs would have a more profound impact than simply lowering the limit to .05. Keeping our community safe is an important issue but there is still more work that needs to be done if we are to truly combat the harm this legislation seeks to resolve.”

If you’re ever arrested for a DUI in Lynnwood or elsewhere in Washington State, get DUIHeroes on your side as soon as possible. We know that getting a DUI doesn’t make you a criminal or a bad person, it just means you made a mistake. Our honest and tenacious legal representation is designed to protect your driving privilege, uphold your reputation, and remind you that you deserve a chance to stand up for yourself when facing a DUI charge.

Learn more about your options and our legal services today. Call (425) 296-9358 for a free case evaluation after a DUI arrest.

More Information

“WA lawmakers try again to lower blood alcohol limit as DUI deaths rise” (The Seattle Times)
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