Lawmaker hopes to lower state’s DUI threshold
State’s threshold would be strictest in the nation if passed
Even a couple of drinks could put someone over the legal limit to drive in Utah if a bill proposed by a state lawmaker passes during the upcoming legislative session.
Utah would become the first state in the nation to lower the DUI threshold from .08 to .05 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood if the bill, sponsored by Rep. Norman Thurston, a Republican from Provo, gains support, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The legal blood alcohol concentration limit in all states is .08. In Utah, the law states that anyone driving a vehicle with .08 percent or above blood-alcohol concentration can be charged with impaired driving. There is zero tolerance for drivers under the age of 21.
The penalties and fines for driving under the influence vary depending on several circumstances, including the number of offenses the driver has had, if there is a passenger involved and if the incident causes bodily harm. A first or second offense is considered a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable upon conviction by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Thurston, who said he doesn’t drink, said the measure was purely “data and evidence driven.” He said it is necessary step toward making the roads safer for all drivers.
“It has nothing to do with my feelings about alcohol. It’s just about doing the right thing,” Thurston said. “The number one recommendation of the National Transportation Safety Board is to lower the limit to .05. I think every state should be looking at this. It’s not about leading the nation because it doesn’t matter to me if we we’re the 14 or the 20 state to lower it as long as we do.”
Thurston, who is also the director for the state Office of Health Care Statistics, cited international law and claimed “North America is the only place left where we are not .05.”
“In other places that have done this, follow-up studies show you reduce the problem if you lower the limit,” Thurston said. “The message we are trying to send is that there is no safe level of drinking and driving. You can have all the alcohol you want, but take an Uber.
“From a tourism perspective, people who come from around the world to ski in Park City won’t find it weird that Utah now has an international standard,” he said.
For a 160-pound man, it would take three drinks to reach a blood-alcohol concentration of .05, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A man driving under that level of intoxication would likely experience a loss of small-muscle control and impaired judgment along with reduced coordination and a difficulty steering among others, the website states.
Utah’s District 53 freshman Rep. Logan Wilde, whose district includes parts of Summit County, recently told The Park Record that he is interested in learning more about the bill. Wilde said he wanted to understand how local law enforcement officials feel about the measure before he decides whether to support it.
Lt. Andrew Wright, said the Summit County Sheriff’s Office supports any legislation aimed at reducing the number of drunk driving accidents.
“Obviously, the amount of DUIs that we as Utah law enforcement deal with on an annual basis is too much,” Wright said. “One DUI is already too high and I do think this would deter people from consuming more alcohol and getting behind the wheel.
“I would hope that if the law were to pass and bring it down to a .05 BAC limit that people would be a little more motivated to use taxis and other modes of transportation,” he said.
Wright said the field sobriety tests that drivers are required to perform if they are suspected of operating their vehicle under the influence are not always “100 percent accurate.” He said lowering the limit would be a more objective benchmark.
“We don’t condone any drinking or driving period. When you are socializing it is easy to let the night go by and we encourage anyone who is going to out to a bar or restaurant or friends house to find an alternate ride home,” Wright said. “Hopefully there is enough education about this if it passes. Rather than trying to scare people into not going anywhere and socializing we need to encourage that alternative.”
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Summit County officials declared their potential conflicts of interest, with Councilors Doug Clyde and Chris Robinson offering the most extensive lists on the County Council.