Utah becomes the first state to lower the DUI threshold
Lawmaker successfully lobbies for strictest law in the nation
Utah is in a position to take the lead as the state with the strictest drunk driving laws in the nation after the state Legislature voted last week to lower the DUI threshold.
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, is signed by Governor Gary Herbert.
Herbert has previously expressed his support for the measure, indicating that he is likely to sign the bill into law. In his State of the State address in January, he said “government regulations are designed to level playing fields and to protect the public. An example of effective state regulation can be found with how Utah governs alcohol.”
Last week, the Senate narrowly passed the measure 17-12. It passed the House 48-26. If signed by the governor, the law will be enacted on Dec. 30, 2018.
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 important thing about this bill passing is that it clears up a misconception in our law that is OK to drink up until a certain point and then drive,” Thurston said. “But impairment begins with the first drink and there is no safe level of drinking and driving. Those two things just don’t go together and the .05 standard is a reasonable standard beyond which people can be charged with a DUI.”
Thurston said he believes most Americans already think the national standard is .05 or lower, adding “this already resonates with them and they already think it is a great thing.”
“We were the first to go to .08 and I hope people don’t think we are too backwards when it comes to our policy because people will realize it does save lives and it is a forward thinking,” Thurston said. “I think that when you look at a person who is going to go out and have a good time, I don’t think this law will stop people from drinking.”
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 impaired judgment along with reduced coordination and ability to track moving objects, along with a difficulty steering among others, the website states.
Last month before it was passed, the Utah Restaurant Association came out against the measure, claiming “it would make criminals out of responsible restaurant patrons who enjoy an alcoholic beverage with their meal, negatively impact the restaurant industry and image of our state.”
Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said his organization was surprised the measure gained the support it did. Malone said his concern is the perception the new law will create for the state.
“The fact that we are the first state to adopt the .05 does have some concerns for us as to how people perceive the ability to have a good time on a vacation or a meeting in Utah,” Malone said. “At this point, it’s not about whether you support it or not support it. It’s how you deal with the ramifications.
“I don’t think it would be nearly as much of a concern if we were the third or fourth state, but we are worried that being the first state sends a loud message,” Malone said. “I think we have a great community in order to deal with it in terms of how people logistically can deal with that, but maybe I’m just look at the glass as a little less empty.”
Lt. Andrew Wright, with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, said as law enforcement officials “if there a law on the books we will enforce it.” However, Wright added, “The difficult thing that we see on an enforcement level is that we are not necessarily going to see impairment at a .05.”
“Basically what we will do is how we have handled DUI enforcement in the past and it will still be the same operating procedure,” Wright said. “As far as we are concerned, it is business as usual as far as the protection and prevention of drunk driving. But, this is going to create a lot of different challenges on the enforcement side for us.”
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