Drunken driving test. Credit: Nikamo via Shutterstock

House leaders said Wednesday they did not expect to take action this year on a proposal to make Connecticut’s drunken-driving limit among the strictest in the county by lowering the blood alcohol threshold for intoxication from .08 to .05.

The bill, which advanced out of the Transportation Committee in March, would put Connecticut in the company of only Utah where the state legislature lowered the blood alcohol limit for driving to .05 in 2018. 

The proposal is currently awaiting action on the Senate calendar, however, House leaders were asked Wednesday whether it would be in contention during the remaining weeks of the session as lawmakers face a June 7 deadline to pass bills.  

“I don’t think it will pass and we haven’t talked about it,” House Speaker Matt Ritter said. “I think it was a conversation starter.”

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

The speaker’s comments came on the eve of a scheduled press conference by Transportation Committee co-chair, Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, who invited members of Mothers Against Drunken Driving and the National Transportation Safety Board to help build support for the bill. 

In an interview Wednesday, Cohen said the bill was one of several policies under consideration to curb an increasing number of automobile crashes on state roads and highways. 

“Crash data is on the rise in Connecticut, which is awful, and there’s really compelling data telling us that lowering the BAC could remedy some of this,” she said. 

The proposal, which has the support of Gov. Ned Lamont, came from the state Department of Transportation. In February, DOT Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto told a legislative committee that Connecticut ranked third in the nation for the percent of crash fatalities that were caused by drunken drivers.

“To be frank, Connecticut has a drunk driving problem,” Eucalitto said. “We’re one of the worst-offending states in the nation… This is unacceptable. What we’ve been doing is no longer working and it’s time for us to do everything in our power to change the behavior of Connecticut’s drivers.”

On Wednesday, Rep. Roland Lemar, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, said his panel drafted the bill after members were swayed by Eucalitto’s testimony. 

Even if the proposal lacked adequate support to pass this year, Lemar said he believed Connecticut and likely the rest of the country would lower blood alcohol limits below the traditional .08 in the near future.

“I do think we’ve set the stage and, frankly, I do think the nation is going to be there. Our country will be at .05 in the next five to 10 years,” Lemar said. “This is where the science says we should be and it’s responsive to what we’re seeing in our state.”

Policymakers are also eying emerging technology designed to enable vehicles to sense the blood alcohol levels of their drivers and prevent them from driving if they are over the legal limit. Ritter said he expected the technology was just four or five years away from availability. 

“That’s the ultimate game-changer when you can’t even start your car,” he said. “But I think in the meantime, whether you would go to .05 like Utah, I don’t know.”

Utah has experienced a nearly 20% drop in fatal car wrecks since implementing the law, Cohen said. Connecticut can not afford to wait until new technology becomes available, she said.

“There are so many ways to go out and have a good time and enjoy our favorite restaurants and bars. Have a couple drinks then hop in an Uber or a Lyft or have a designated driver or hop on our public transportation system,” she said. “I think this is really going to require a culture shift. We’re trying to get people to think differently about getting behind the wheel once they’ve been drinking.”