Up until a few years ago, all states in the U.S., including California, had the same blood alcohol limit for drunk driving violations. Drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher were per se in violation of the law and could be arrested for a DUI. However, back in 2018, Utah became the first state to lower the per se drunk driving limit from 0.08% to 0.05%.
Per Se DUI in California is 0.08% BAC
Under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b), “It is unlawful for a person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.”
A per se DUI involves a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. The BAC level is generally tested with a breath or chemical blood test. It is a DUI violation simply by having a high enough BAC, even if the driver feels totally sober at the time.
Penalties for a first-time per se DUI include jail time of up to 6 months, fines of up to $1,000 or more, a suspended driver's license, and an ignition interlock device (IID) placed in your vehicle in order to drive again.
In August of 2021, we wrote about other states looking at the possibility of following Utah's lead and lowering the DUI threshold. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has even recommended lowering the per se BAC limit to 0.05 for all states. At the time, New York, Hawaii, and other states were considering adopting similar laws. Currently, Utah is the only one with a lowered BAC law.
Study on Accident Rates After Lowering the BAC
A study published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that in the years after Utah lowered the DUI threshold, the number of crashes and fatalities fell, despite an increase in road miles. According to the NHTSA deputy administrator, “changing the law to 0.05% in Utah saved lives and motivated more drivers to take steps to avoid driving impaired.”
According to the study, “Utah's fatal crash rate dropped by 19.8% in 2019, the first year under the lower legal limit, and the fatality rate decreased by 18.3%.” The fatal crash rate measures the overall number of deadly crashes. The fatality crash rate measures fatalities over total vehicle miles traveled.
Does Lowering the BAC Limit Hurt Businesses?
In 2017, when lawmakers were lobbying for reducing the BAC limit, the tourism and restaurant industry opposed the legislation, arguing that it would be ineffective, come at the expense of visitors and residents, and hurt the restaurant and tourism businesses that rely on a continued influx of tourists and visitors.
The NHTSA study also found that there were no significant economic downsides to the lowering of the BAC threshold. There was no significant increase in the number of DUI arrests, which remained relatively flat.
East Bay DUI Arrest Defense Attorney
Even with a BAC of 0.08% in California, there are plenty of people who are wrongly arrested because of police misconduct or faulty breath test equipment. With more than 38 years of experience, Lynn Gorelick understands the law and science around DUI arrests and will use her experience to fight for you. Contact your local DUI lawyer today.