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Lawmakers looking to lower blood alcohol level for drunk drivers

The NTSB testified during a transportation committee hearing urging Connecticut to follow Utah’s lead in lowering the BAC from .08 to .05

HARTFORD, Conn. — After the second deadliest year on record for wrong-way crashes and following the death of State Rep. Q. Williams earlier this year, lawmakers are now considering lowing the blood alcohol level (BAC) for impaired drivers from .08 to .05. 

“Around the country over the last 20 years we’ve seen the decline in alcohol impaired related fatalities. In CT, we’ve actually seen an increase,” said state transportation department spokesman Josh Morgan.

An official from the National Transportation & Safety Board testified Monday via Zoom from Washington, D.C., urging lawmakers in the transportation committee to take up lowering the BAC, something it considers a top ten priority.

“The science is very clear. You’re impaired at .05,” said DOT Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto. 

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In 2020, 40 percent of collisions across the state involved impaired drivers. In wrong way crashes, 80 percent are impaired. 

In 2018, Utah became the first state to lower its BAC reportedly without negatively impacting alcohol sales or tourism. 

“What it has lowered is their crash rate. It has lowered their fatality rate in respect to crashes,” said Sen. Christine Cohen, D, Guilford, who is the Senate chair of the legislature’s transportation committee.

“If we can reduce the amount of people who are driving drunk on the highways then we’re going to reduce the amount of wrong-way crashes that happen here in Connecticut,” said Rep. David Labriolla, R, Oxford.

The proposal to lower the BAC is part of a committee bill that includes additional measures to reduce wrong-way crashes. 

Lawmakers want to expand a pilot program that has 17 wrong-way detection systems with the latest camera, lighting, and police notification technology. Ten ramps are in place across the state and seven  are currently awaiting parts for completion, according to DOT officials on Monday. But that’s just a small fraction of the 236 ramps deemed high priority by the department.

Both transportation officials and lawmakers in agreement that cultural shifts are needed, and they believe lowering the BAC could change behavior. 

“It’s almost like Russian roulette with people who think they’re going to be safe. ‘They’re just a little bit buzzed,’” said Morgan.

“Compounding that issue of impaired driving is the fact that we’ve now legalized marijuana and there really is no threshold to test for it,” said Sen. Tony Hwang, R, Fairfield.

Samaia Hernandez is a reporter for FOX61 News. She can be reached at shernandez@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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