‘100% preventable’: WA lawmakers thinking of lowering blood-alcohol limit

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Drinking responsibly could take on a whole new meaning in Washington.

Lawmakers in Olympia are now looking into lowering the blood-alcohol limit (BAC) from .08 to .05.

Supporters of the bill say they are trying to prevent deadly crashes across the state. The legislature says 2021 was the deadliest in 15 years, with more than 600 people dying on Washington roads. Half of all serious and deadly crashes are caused by impaired driving.

Washington would be the second state in the country to lower its BAC. While some believe this would cause people to be more responsible and keep people safe, others say it could harm small businesses.

“We’re not here to see how much alcohol we can serve someone,” said Greg Lipsker, owner and winemaker of Barrister Winery in downtown Spokane. “We’re here to have an experience.”

If the .05 BAC limit keeps people safe, Barrister Winery says it’s in favor.

Wineries say they already encourage people to drink responsibly. Proposed legislation could do even more.

“People are going to have to be more responsible about the amount of alcohol they drink,” Lipsker said. “But at the same time, it’s going to make our streets safer. It’s going to make out guests safer. It’s going to make the innocent person on the street more safe.”

Washington would follow in the footsteps of Utah. They are the first and only start to lower its BAC level so far.

During the first year of its new law, deadly crashes in Utah dropped 19.8 percent.

“To not follow suit is to condemn hundreds of Washington families to a dreaded phone call about losing a loved one,” King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Amy Freedheim said.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says the bill will help people stay safe on the road.

“These are not accidents,” Dennis Maughaun said. “These are 100 percent preventable. So, .05 would help us and help the rest of us so we don’t have the heartbreak.”

The bill drew opposition from some, including the Washington Wine Institute. They say wineries and tasting rooms already create a space for responsible drinking.

“Wineries create an experience for customers where they get to try our wine [and] decide if they want to take a bottle to enjoy with their family or friends,” said Josh Macdonald with the Washington Wine Institute. “Even with the extreme focus on tailoring the experience to take it home. A change to .05 BAC could turn this responsible moderate consumption experience into a serious concern.”

The bill is currently on the Senate floor. It would need to pass the house before making its way to the Governor’s desk and into law.

If passed, it would go into effect July of this year.

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