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  • Writer's pictureKarlie Valdez, JD

The Legal Limit for BAC in Washington

In the realm of DUI law, Washington state is currently considering a shift that could significantly impact residents—the proposal to lower the per se blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit from 0.08% to 0.05% BAC. This potential change is prompted by the alarming statistic that more than half of fatal crashes in the state involve impairment by drugs and/or alcohol, with 32% specifically linked to alcohol-positive drivers between 2017 and 2021.

What is the current BAC Limit in Washington?

The BAC limit in Washington is different for various categories of drivers. For minors (under the age of 21) the BAC limit is .02% under Washington law. Minors who are arrested for a BAC at this amount or higher may be charged with an underage DUI or "Minor Driving After Consuming Alcohol." The .08% BAC limit that Washingtonians are most familiar with applies to the average driver who does not operate a commercial vehicle. Since Commercial Drivers are held to a higher standard of care the BAC limit for them is .04% BAC which results in a revocation of the CDL.

Washington's BAC History

Washington last adjusted its DUI per se alcohol limit in 1999, moving it from 0.10 to 0.08. Now, the ongoing discussion revolves around the prospect of further reducing it to 0.05%, a proposal that has surfaced in previous years (HB 1874 in 2017 and SB 5982 in 2022). Notably, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has consistently advocated for a 0.05% or lower BAC limit.

BAC limits in other states and countries

Utah has already implemented a 0.05 BAC limit in December 2018, providing insights into the potential outcomes for Washington state. Utah's experience demonstrates significant decreases in fatal crashes, serious injury crashes, and overall crashes, suggesting that such a shift can have positive impacts on road safety.

BAC limits extend beyond legal technicalities; they serve as powerful deterrents, influencing individual behavior. The proposed 0.05 BAC limit aims to emphasize the risks associated with impaired driving, encouraging responsible decisions before reaching this level of intoxication. Supporters of reducing the BAC limit point to research which indicates that impairment starts at a BAC of 0.05, challenging the misconception that individuals with BAC levels between 0.05 and 0.079 are entirely sober.

Globally, over 100 countries, including Germany, Japan, and Russia, have set their BAC limits at or below 0.05%. The NTSB's recommendation aligns with this trend, emphasizing the increased risk of fatal crashes associated with BAC levels higher than 0.05.

Historical data suggests a correlation between lower BAC limits and a reduction in alcohol-involved fatal crashes. For instance, Australia's adoption of a 0.05 BAC limit resulted in an 18% reduction in fatal crashes.

Beyond the legal and regulatory aspects, fatal crashes come with substantial economic costs, estimated at $930 million in Washington in 2018. By preventing impaired driving, the proposed legislation aims to save lives and reduce economic burdens associated with fatal crashes.

The implications of changing the legal BAC limit

The implications of this potential change for Washington state residents are multifaceted. On the positive side, adopting a 0.05 BAC limit could contribute to a significant reduction in fatal crashes, creating safer roads for all residents. The experiences of Utah and other countries with similar limits provide evidence of the potential benefits.

However, there are concerns as well. Some argue that such a shift might not significantly impact tourism and alcohol sales, as evidenced by Utah's experience. Critics may also express concerns about potential legal consequences for individuals with BAC levels between 0.05 and 0.079, who may experience behavioral and cognitive effects but are not considered legally impaired under the current 0.08 limit.

In conclusion, the potential change in Washington state's BAC limit from 0.08% to 0.05% is a topic of significant relevance. While research and global experiences suggest positive outcomes in terms of road safety, there are legitimate concerns and considerations about its practical implications for residents.

Contact an Experienced Washington DUI Lawyer

As a Washington DUI lawyer, staying abreast of these developments is essential for providing informed guidance to clients. Attorney Karlie Valdez has been providing DUI Defense to Washington clients for over 20 years. Reach out to Valdez Law PLLC for a complimentary consultation by calling or texting (206) 718-4498 or emailing

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