Summit County Sheriff says impairment may be harder to detect at .05
Utah is set to have the strictest drunk driving laws in the nation at the end of the month when it becomes the first state to lower the blood-alcohol content threshold for a DUI from 0.08 to 0.05.
The new law, which goes into effect on Dec. 30, has been met with resistance from those in the tourism and hospitality industry, with some saying it could hurt restaurants and image of the state.
Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez said law enforcement officers will continue operationally as they have in the past. He said the new law will not change their focus when it comes to conducting traffic enforcement.
“As we conduct our routine traffic enforcements, if we come across someone that exhibits signs of impairment we will proceed normally,” he said. “This won’t heighten our awareness because of the new law.”
The current 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 new law lowers that threshold.
When a driver is pulled over and impairment is suspected, the driver is subjected to three state-recognized field sobriety tests, Martinez said. Based on the results of those tests, which identify levels of impairment, the driver may be subjected to a breathalyzer test and arrested under suspicion of driving under the influence.
However, Martinez admitted it may be harder to detect impairment at 0.05 in the field, depending on the person. For an average 160-pound man, it would take three drinks to reach a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.05, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A man driving under that level of impairment would likely experience decreased alertness, reduced coordination, difficulty steering and a reduced response to emergency driving situations, the agency’s website states.
“The eyes really determine possible impairment, but if someone is speaking clearly and coherently it may be harder to determine,” he said.
Martinez reiterated that the response from law enforcement will remain the same as it has in the past. If a deputy suspects a driver has been drinking, they will be required to conduct the field sobriety tests, he said. He added, “If they show impairment, they will be taken into custody.”
“Whether it’s 0.05 or 0.08, if you are going to drink, do not drive,” he said.
Martinez encouraged people to take a cab or use a ride-sharing service if they are going to drink. He encouraged people to enjoy the holidays, but make sure they have a designated driver.
“It’s pretty scary for a lot of people to think of what does 0.05 mean for me?” he said. “Will it limit me to one glass of wine or one beer? But, if it does limit you, go enjoy that glass at home. At the end of the day, the best advice I can give is to drink responsibly, regardless of what the statute mandates.”
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