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A push to lower Washington's blood-alcohol level to .05 for drivers

Washington state lawmakers heard arguments for and against Senate Bill 5002 Monday, which proposes to drop the current blood alcohol level for drivers down from .08 to .05 blood alcohol concentration or BAC.

The bill was discussed in the Senate's Law and Justice Committee Monday. State Sen. John Lovick (D-Mill Creek), is the primary sponsor of the bill and spoke in support of it. Lovick is a former state trooper and Snohomish County sheriff. He noted that of the more than 700 people killed on roads in Washington last year, over half were DUI related.

"Our roads are not as safe as they should be, and they are definitely not as safe as they could be," Lovick said. "I see driving behavior that is beyond anything I could have imagined when I started as a state trooper over 40 years ago. Drivers are not just speeding, following too closely, passing on the shoulders, and driving aggressive, it is very clear to me that drunk driving is impacting the safety of our communities, and it is time that we do something. Drunk driving is a choice. Drunk driving collisions are avoidable."

Josh McDonald with the Washington Wine Institute spoke against the proposal and argued "the current threshold in almost every other state was established as a safe level of consumption based on science and law enforcement guidance." He stressed that wineries rely on "responsible serving" in their tasting rooms.

"A change to .05 BAC could turn this reasonable, modern consumption experience, for both the customer and winery, into a very serious concern," McDonald said. "Without the ability to offer on-premise tasting of our product to our customers, including local and state tourists, discovering our wine sometimes for the first time ... Washington wineries will not be able to compete in an extremely competitive global wine marketplace."

Julia Gordon with the Washington Hospitality Association also spoke against the proposed change, arguing that there is "no discernable way to recognize signs of intoxication" at the .05 level. She said that the change would put businesses and employees at risk.

If SB 5002 passes, it would go into effect in July 2023 and Washington would join Utah as the only states with a blood-alcohol limit of .05. Utah's law went active in 2018. A study the following year found that DUI crashes went down.