Utah ignores science on moderate alcohol consumption

The prohibitionists are at it again. Apparently, they won’t stop until they can put anyone who takes a drink into a cage — as they have done with smoking a cigarette or cigar.

Indeed, last month, the Utah governor signed a bill into law that lowers the maximum blood alcohol limit for drivers down to 0.05 percent from the previous legal threshold of 0.08.

Not too long ago, most states used the limit of 0.10 percent, which is more consistent with the scientific evidence. So — this unprecedented step slashes the old common sense level in half. It also gives Utah the strictest “drunk” driving law in the nation.

Of course, states still make the laws regarding operating a motor vehicle. Including the laws about driving while intoxicated (DWI) and driving under the influence (DUI). But they receive powerful backing from federal nannies, such as the National Transportation Safety Board.

They all want to reduce the legal blood alcohol limit lower and lower. It’s gotten to the point where a woman (who is on average smaller than a man) has to worry about taking a single drink…one glass of wine or bottle of beer…before getting behind the wheel. Even though there has never been any scientific evidence or forensic medical evidence that such low levels impair the operation of a motor vehicle.

These federal nannies may as well be in spirit with Oliver Cromwell, who beheaded English King Charles I in 1648. Cromwell banned everything from drinking to dancing to attending the “new” plays of Shakespeare. Of course, his rise to power also launched a decade-long bloody civil war.

In the U.S., they remind me of the legendary “temperance” leader Hannah Jumper who broke up the taverns and barrels with an axe in Rockport, Massachusetts (where I grew up and still visit summers). She lived a little before (and to the north of) Lizzie Borden of Massachusetts. But perhaps they weren’t so different in “temperament.” (Ironically, I always found the word “temperance” to imply moderation, like I always recommend, and not prohibition.)

Clearly, this move in Utah is more about “beliefs” than it is about science.

So — what does the science say about alcohol and driving?

The forgotten science of blood-alcohol

I helped develop analytical methods for measuring blood alcohol levels using new space-age technology in the late 1970s.

I also have experience with blood alcohol levels as a forensic medical examiner. The cases of serious and fatal motor vehicle accidents — which I saw in that role — were caused by drivers who were intoxicated way beyond having two or three drinks. They were drunk beyond the proverbial “one too many.”

These dangerous drivers had blood alcohol levels associated with 10, 11, or 12 drinks “too many” in the hours before getting behind a wheel. (Often, they are further intoxicated by illicit drugs, including marijuana.)

They drive too fast, erratically and ignore danger signs. They are visually impaired because the eight different eye muscles can’t coordinate when high alcohol poisons them. Thus, the two eyes can’t “visually converge” or focus, and there is no depth perception. They literally “see double” and are “blind drunk.”

I drew on research done by the U.S. Air Force on visual flight standards for pilots and astronauts from the 1960s and 1970s (where I had been a trainee in the life sciences program). I was able to apply this additional background as a consulting forensic pathologist to fatal motor vehicle accident investigations in more recent years.

But this science appears to be all way too much for the nanny governments at the federal and state levels.

They appear more interested in controlling behavior, and picking the low-hanging fruit of fining and punishing honest, taxpaying citizens who engage in normal social behavior of consuming moderate amounts of alcohol. Of course, the science also shows that moderate alcohol consumption benefits your health.

If they were really focused on public safety, they would crack down on the problem drinkers (and illegal drug users) responsible for the serious accidents and fatalities that do occur.

Plus, in Utah, they should really worry about the intoxicated drivers, who now also smoke marijuana legally in neighboring Colorado and wander over state lines. (“Rocky Mountain high,” indeed.)

So, women living or visiting in Utah, beware. You’d better think twice before taking even one drink before driving. And I haven’t noticed a lot of public transportation there as an alternative.

If you’re not in Utah, you can still safely enjoy drinking just a glass or two of wine or beer, or a cocktail with a meal, this weekend, even if you have to drive somewhere. For now, anyway.