State DOT Pushes to Lower Blood Alcohol Limit


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HARTFORD — The state Department of Transportation on Thursday submitted two legislative proposals aimed at lowering the legal limit for a driver’s blood alcohol concentration from 0.08 to 0.05 percent. If passed, Connecticut would be the only state besides Utah with a reduced threshold. 

Both DOT proposals would reduce the state’s BAC limit to 0.05 percent, though one would criminalize driving at 0.05, while the other would treat a BAC between 0.05 and 0.79 as a moving violation. DOT spokesperson John Morgan told CT Examiner on Friday that it’s up to the Transportation Committee to decide which option it prefers. 

“Providing two different options for the Transportation Committee and the legislature to discuss is all about removing dangerous drivers from the road,” he said. “Something needs to be done. The numbers for impaired drivers in Connecticut are not good.”

The State Police reported a decrease in DUI arrests in Connecticut, from 6,304 in 2022 to 6,264 in 2023. But according to the latest National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data for 2021, the state had 298 fatal crashes that year, with 123 — or 41 percent — involving alcohol-impaired drivers. In 2021, the national average for fatalities caused by impaired drivers was 30 percent, a figure that Connecticut exceeded each year from 2017 to 2021.

Morgan said it’s unclear why Connecticut continues to have a higher percentage of alcohol-related deaths than elsewhere in the country.

“We just never want to lose sight of the fact that there’s a human life attached to each one of those [statistics],” he said. “Those are our colleagues, friends, family and neighbors.”

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Utah experienced a nearly 20 percent drop in its fatal crash rate from 2016 to 2019, following the enactment of a law in 2018 that lowered the permissible BAC level. The board also noted that over 20 percent of individuals who consumed alcohol in Utah altered their habits, including arranging alternative transportation when drinking alcohol outside the home, since the law went into effect.

Morgan said there is bipartisan support for Connecticut’s proposal and is looking forward to engaging with the Transportation Committee throughout the short session, as well as during a public hearing on the matter on March 13.

Transportation Committee members, however, had mixed reviews on the measures — State Rep. Tracy Marra, R-Darien, opposed them; State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, was open to discussion; and State Sen. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, sought more information.

Marra strongly opposed the DOT-backed plan, deeming it “misguided.” She contended that if BAC levels are under scrutiny, a study should also examine the impact of driving under the influence of recreational marijuana, which was legalized in Connecticut in July 2021. 

“You’ve got cars that are filled with people on cannabis driving by, and the police can’t even pull them over. It just doesn’t make sense,” she said. “I realize that we do, obviously, have a high fatality level on our roads, but what is the problem and does this fix it? I think taking the blood alcohol level down is not something that is going to fix the problems that we have on our roads.”

Marra said she supports changing the rules to allow police to stop drivers suspected of using marijuana.

“I want to allow the police to do the job that they should be doing. And, if there are intoxicated drivers out there, then police need to be able to [pull them over]. And when we talk about intoxicated drivers, cannabis is intoxicating. I know we are focused on alcohol right now, but we are creating the wild wild west of cannabis.”

Morgan pushed back on Marra’s argument, saying very few people who only had marijuana in their system die from motor vehicle accidents. 

“It is incredibly rare for a roadway fatality for that driver to just have THC cannabis in their system. If there is cannabis in their system, it is most often paired with alcohol so they are DUI,” he said.

Hwang said he’d consider the DOT proposals but had concerns.

“There is a lot of conversation about the unfair application,” he said. “I could have one or two drinks and that could impair me differently than somebody who is 250 pounds and 6 foot 8.”

Similar to Marra’s concerns, Hwang lamented that none of the BAC legislation addressed marijuana impairment on the roads. 

Meanwhile, Lopes said the BAC is “probably our best tool to determine whether or not someone is impaired to drive,” but that people get impaired at different levels. “It’s just [about] someone’s ability to process alcohol,” he said.

Lopes pointed to other ways of determining intoxication, including field sobriety tests. 

“Officers are trained to determine with those tests whether or not someone is driving impaired. Those tests can also corroborate or work in conjunction with blood alcohol content to determine whether or not someone is impaired,” he said. 

Bob Garguilo, regional executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in East Haven, said last week that the organization fully supports lowering the BAC to 0.05 percent. 

“The biggest pitch we can make is that this is about saving innocent lives. This is a 100 percent preventable crime that we are just allowing to happen,” he said. “… We are not saying don’t drink and don’t go out. What we are saying is just have a plan as to how you will get home safe.”

Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950