Proposed bill would lower Oregon's DUI limit to .05 percent

(KATU Photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. — A new proposal looks to drop Oregon’s legal blood alcohol limit for drivers statewide.

Half of all traffic deaths in Portland involve someone under the influence, according to the Portland Bureau of Transportation. The new proposal from Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, is hoping to curb that number.

Senate Bill 7 would lower the state’s DUII limit from .08 percent to .05 percent.

Courtney is sponsoring the bill. It's the first bill to lower Oregon's legal DUII limit since 1983, when the limit lowered from .10 to .08.

"One mistake in this area, and one person could be haunted the rest of their life because they hurt somebody," said Courtney. "Why am I even having this discussion regarding the deadliest thing that you and I use several times a day? The car is a deadly weapon."

Utah and Oregon led the country on lowering BAC legal limits. On Sunday, Utah will be the first state to enact the change to .05 percent. Oregon could soon follow suit.

According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, 137 people died from drunken driving last year, compared to the 151 deaths in 2016. In Multnomah County, 16 people died in 2017, compared to the 15 deaths in 2016.

For years, the National Transportation Safety Board has been recommending the legal limit be lowered. A NTSB report shows drivers with a BAC of at least .05 are seven times more likely to be in a deadly crash than drivers with no alcohol in their system. It also estimates that passing this law could drop fatal crashes by 11.1 percent.

Some bartenders say it's not going to make a difference in safety; it's just harming their business.

Leslie Bryan, the manager of Hubbard Inn, says the window for error increases for responsible drinkers.

"To get to a .05 it's not too difficult," she said. "It's a little bit alarming."

According to NTSB, a 160-pound man would have to drink four alcoholic drinks to reach a BAC of .08 compared to three alcoholic drinks to reach a BAC of .05.

"I have no doubt that Senator Courtney and other .05 supporters in Oregon are well-intentioned, but lowering the legal limit is not the answer and will do little to save lives. It takes very little alcohol to reach a .05 BAC. In fact, 120-pound woman can reach that level after consuming little more than a single drink," said Jackson Shedelbower, a spokesperson for the American Beverage Institute.

Shedelbower says .05 legislation focuses limited traffic safety resources on moderate and responsible social drinkers, rather than legitimately drunken drivers. He says ABI pulls data from the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration, as well as conducting its own independent query.

"Nearly 70 percent of alcohol-related traffic fatalities involve someone with a BAC of .15 and above -- three times that of this current .05 proposal. This group of high-BAC offenders -- .15 and above -- is who should be targeted by additional legislative proposals, not those who simply want to enjoy a drink or two over dinner or out with friends," said Shedelbower.

Both sides of the argument can agree a new law wouldn't change lifestyles.

Oregon’s legislative session begins Jan. 22.

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