Law proposed to lower blood alcohol level to drive

A bill proposed in the Washington State Legislature, if passed, could make Washington state just the second in the United States to lower its legal blood alcohol content level to drive from .08 to .05. A public hearing on Senate Bill 5002 is happening today, Jan. 30.

Dr. Richard Ries, head of the addictions division in the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, says he expects traffic fatalities in Washington to drop by about 20% if the bill becomes law. A similar decrease has been observed in Utah after that state lowered its blood alcohol content limit for drivers to a .05 in 2018.

“In Washington state, we had about 750 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the last two or three years,” said Ries. “So, that would potentially be 150 less deaths (over that timeframe).”

Ries hopes a law change would also encourage people to minimize their alcohol intake on nights when they plan to drive, to designate sober drivers, or consider using rideshares and other transportation options.

He adds that blood alcohol levels vary from person to person based on body build, age, and gender, among other factors.

“At .08, most normal drinkers are buzzy. They can feel alcohol, and when you test them, their response times are a little slower,” said Ries. “When you test them on function, they're more likely to weave a little bit, even at the legal .08.”

Download broadcast-ready soundbites on how blood alcohol level impacts health and cognitive ability.

UW Medicine