Utah Lowers BAC Level To .05 - Elliott & Smith Law Firm

Elliott & Smith Law Firm

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Jan 07

Utah Lowers BAC Level To .05

In the early 1980s, Utah was one of the first states to lower the legal alcohol limit from .10 to .08.

Now, it’s the first one to lower the limit even further. What effect, if any, does this change have in Arkansas? After a steep decline in the early 1990s, the alcohol-related fatality rate is inching back up across the country. Many people think that lowering the BAC limit again might have the same effect it had before, and the death rate would decline dramatically again. “We are behind many other countries, many other countries have a .05 BAC or lower and so maybe other states will now follow that Utah took the lead,” said University of Minnesota Alcohol Epidemiology Program Director Traci Toomey.

“Even though Arkansas has a .08 BAC limit; drivers can still be convicted of DUI if they have a .05. The cases are just easier to prove at .08,” explained Arkansas personal injury attorney J. Timothy Smith. “Alcohol-related car crashes are the same,” he added. “You can establish liability at any alcohol consumption level, but it’s easier to do at .08 or above.”

This doctrine is called negligence per se. Or negligence “as such,” he continued. It applies if the tortfeasor (negligent driver):

  • Violated a safety law, such as the DUI law, and
  • The violation substantially caused the victim/plaintiff’s injuries.

So, if a driver  had a BAC above .08, caused a crash, and was arrested for DUI; that driver would also be legally responsible for damages. It does not matter how carefully, or carelessly, he was driving at the time of the crash.

Arkansas criminal law, like the laws in most states, prohibits “driving under the influence” and not driving with an unacceptably-high blood alcohol content.

If an officer reasonably believes a driver was intoxicated; an officer can arrest the driver regardless of the person’s BAC level. The charges will likely stick,  However, if a sub-.08 case goes to court, prosecutors must use circumstantial evidence to prove intoxication. Personal injury attorneys must do the same thing. Circumstantial evidence of impairment includes things like:

  • Erratic driving,
  • Bloodshot eyes, and
  • Odor of alcohol.

The burden of proof is the biggest difference between criminal and civil court.

In criminal court, prosecutors must establish intoxication beyond a reasonable doubt. “Intoxication” means that the person has completely lost the use of his/her normal mental or physical faculties.

But in civil court, personal injury lawyers need only prove impairment by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

“Impairment” basically means that the person has had at least one drink. So, it’s more likely that a person had a drink and was impaired, if they are coming from a location that served alcohol.

That alcohol-serving place might also be liable for car crash damages, because Arkansas has a very broad dram shop law.

It’s illegal to sell alcohol to a minor or a “clearly intoxicated” adult. Third party liability theories like this one are especially important in catastrophic injury crashes. In these cases, the tortfeasor may not have enough insurance coverage to pay full and fair compensation.

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