Good morning Chairman Buxton and Members of the Committee. It is an honor to be here today. My name is Bella Dinh-Zarr and I am Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent agency charged with investigating transportation accidents and making recommendations to advance safety. Thank you for allowing me to speak before you today about the safety benefits of a .05 BAC limit and why the NTSB has recommended this lifesaving measure to every state.
I have visited your beautiful state on vacation with my family several years ago but this is my second visit to your State Capitol in just the past three weeks! I jumped on a plane last night so I could be here as fast as possible. Usually when the NTSB comes to a state this fast, it is because we are launching a Go Team to the scene of an accident. There always is a sense of urgency when, for example, we arrive to investigate a business jet that has flown into an apartment building or a train that has crashed into a crowded station. There is a sense of urgency to find out what happened so we can prevent future tragedies and families who were affected can have answers.
Yet I feel that same sense of urgency today, here in Utah, because your state has the opportunity to start preventing deaths and injuries with a .05 BAC law. Other states - like Washington and Hawaii - are considering it also, but Utah could be the first. One of the hardest parts of my job, but one that I consider a privilege, is talking with families at the scene of an accident. Families always want to know how an accident happened and why their loved one died. With this law, you could spare so many Utah families from hearing the worst news of their lives. You could spare them from having to ask why.
People often wonder "Who could be against .05?" Since the science is solid, I would like to think that the only people who are against it are those who do not know enough about it. They do not understand what .05 BAC does and does not do.
What does .05 not do? Well, it does not reduce drinking because we know that alcohol consumption does not go down after a law. It does not place burdens on law enforcement because there is no significant increase in DUI arrests. Also it does not criminalize innocent people because, with a .05 BAC law, people who are drinking are just less likely to even get behind the wheel in the first place.
If a .05 BAC law does not stop people from drinking, what does it do? The most important thing a .05 BAC law does is prevents all types of people from driving if they have been drinking. Yes, that is all types - people who drink a lot, people who drink a little, high BAC, low BAC - everyone still drinks but now, they avoid driving. Many critics urge us to focus only on high BAC drivers who do make up the majority of fatal crashes, but they simply do not understand that a .05 BAC law would reduce BOTH high and low BAC crashes. This is called a "broad deterrent effect" but a long-time police officer I know just calls it what it is - basic prevention.
There are dozens of studies supporting the effectiveness of .05 BAC. You can see them in our 2013 report or in a comprehensive study funded by the NIH just last month. I also have compiled some of them in this Safety Briefing sheet for you. These studies show that a .05 BAC law helps separate drinking from driving.
This law also is popular with the public. In fact, the AAA Foundation's national surveys have shown that 63% of Americans support .05 BAC. Also, 100 countries around the world have a limit of .05 BAC or lower. The residents and visitors of these countries also drink more per capita than we do, yet they have fewer deaths.
The fact is that a .05 BAC law would result in an 11% decrease in fatal crashes. That is 1,790 lives we could save in our country every single year. The majority of Americans clearly understand and support the life-saving potential of this law. Utah could once again lead the way in saving lives and preventing needless injuries. I respectfully ask that you support a .05 BAC law. Thank you.
Download the Safety Briefing Fact Sheet