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Utah Gets Nation's Toughest DUI Law in the New Year

DUI Drink Gavel Keys
By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on December 27, 2018 10:23 AM

Utah gets the First Mover award again in the DUI race. The state was the first to lower blood alcohol content (BAC) limits from 0.10 to 0.08 back in 1983, and now they are the first in the country to make the next dip, down to 0.05. Will this change things? Some are saying the only thing it will change is Utah's public image.

0.05: Leading Edge or Bleeding Edge?

Utah state Rep. Norm Thurston, a Republican, sponsored the bill to lower the DUI limit to 0.05, which goes into effect on December 30, 2018. Though many publicly blame his roots in the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, a dry religion, as the impetus for this change, Thurston insists this is not the case. He claims his support of the bill was at the request of the National Transportation Safety Board, which has been urging states to lower DUI limits to 0.05 since 2013. All states eventually followed Utah and lowered their limits to 0.08. So perhaps Utah is on the leading edge. But the hospitality industry said this has put their business on the bleeding edge.

Does This New Law Regulate Drunk Driving? Or Drinking?

Some say that this new law regulates drinkers and non-Mormons, and therefore is fundamentally unfair. According to Michele Corigliano, the executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, the industry does not condone drunk driving, but worries the new law sends an inhospitable message to tourists and adds to the perception that Utah has strange liquor laws. "We want this to be a welcoming place to all people," she said.

Many restaurants are concerned that the added cost to pay for a ride home will come out of a diner's weekly restaurant budget. Or worse, diners will stop ordering alcoholic drinks, which are a major contributor to the restaurant industry's profitable bottom line. The restaurant industry says it will not fight the bill, but would like some changes, including a tiered punishment system for those with BAC of 0.05 to 0.08.

Police Say Despite New Law, It's Still Business as Usual

The Utah Highway Patrol claims the new law will not change much on their end. "Troopers and officers throughout the state should already be arresting based on impairment, not based on a per se limit, and that standard is not going to change," according to Sgt. Nick Street with the Utah Highway Patrol. Street adds, "I think people are making better decisions on the front end of a night," by designating drivers or using ride-hailing apps. Indeed, it may not change much on the safety side of things either. There have only been 23 fatal crashes involving BAC between 0.05 and 0.07 in Utah between 2006 and 2015. In 2015 alone, there were 2,021 alcohol-related driver crashes in Utah, resulting in 37 deaths. Though some may say if it saves just one life, it's a good thing.

If you or someone you love has been pulled over for a DUI, contact a local DUI attorney immediately. A lawyer may be able to reduce, or in some way minimize, the criminal consequences of your arrest.

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