Several bills working their way through the state legislature may be of interest to visitors as well as to residents. These are looking to set a lower threshold at which visitors and residents will be deemed to be drunk driving. The current level is .08%, and the proposed level is .05%. The bills are SB 365, SB 160, and HB 1469 (see below). According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 91 people were killed on Hawaii roads during the first 9 months of 2022, which was up 42% compared with the prior year.
If passed, Hawaii will share being the lowest limit drunk driving state with Utah. That is currently the only state in the country with such a low threshold. At the same time, however, .05 is already the legal standard in many places worldwide. Japan has .03%, and China has .02%. In fact, more than 90 countries have legal limits of .05% or less.
While proponents say that the change will save lives in Hawaii, nay-sayers in the legislature, like Donna Mercado Kim, say that it disproportionately impacts those who weigh less than those who weigh more. Others are concerned that the offense penalties will be too severe for those offenders between the new 05% and the current .08% limit and have suggested the possibility of some alternative. Perhaps that could include lower penalties for lower alcohol levels.
SB 160 has already been passed by the Senate, with a vote of 21 to 1, and it is moving on to the House.
Cost of a DUI in Hawaii.
The average penalty/fine for a driving while drinking conviction in Hawaii is $4,158, which aligns with the national average. The fine is up to $1,000. Other potential consequences include jail, loss of driving privileges, car insurance rate hikes, towing, attorney, and bail fees.
Hawaii visitors must also comply.
For visitors with driver’s licenses from other states, a Hawaii infraction is reportable to your own state and could result in a driver’s license suspension or worse at home. Visitors must be aware if this law goes into effect, as they are also bound by it. That is deemed to be a result of implied consent, which also requires testing to confirm a suspicion of drunk driving. Failing to do so is even more severe.
The Hawaii Alcohol Policy Alliance says, “Arrive Alive With .05.“
They said that the .05% limit is “A proven strategy to Reduce Alcohol Impaired Car Crashes, Injuries, and Death. A 2022 study on Utah’s .05 BAC law on the impact on impaired driving found the following: 19.8% drop in fatal car crashes in the 21-month period following the passage of Utah’s law that lowered the BAC limit to .05.”
They indicated that in Utah, some 22% of drivers indicated they had hanged their behavior related to drinking, especially ensuring transportation when drinking when not at home.
The alliance said Each person killed in a preventable alcohol-related crash on Hawaii roads forever changes the lives of families and
communities. “The data are clear, the lifesaving benefits are certain, the support is documented and the justification
for action is compelling.”
NTSB, Police, Hawaii DOT and prosecutors support the change.
Among those opposing the measure is the Hawaii Office of the Public Defender and most of the Hawaii alcohol industry (not including Anheuser-Busch). Some of those say that it is simply too restrictive and would penalize normal responsible drinking and driving.
The Kauai Beer Company stated, “Research seems to indicate that a majority of drunk-driving related fatalities involve at least one driver with blood alcohol content of 0.15% or higher. Lowering the limit from 0.08% to 0.05% would not fix this problem.” That, however, conflicts with the findings in Utah, where a 20% drop in related fatalities occurred.
Utah is the only state to have a BAC limit of 0.05%.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed the findings related to a drop in fatalities concurrent with the change in the law. The Utah law went into effect in 2017. The reduction in traffic fatalities came despite an increase in driving. The Utah data indicates that arrests due to drunk driving didn’t increase significantly.