In late March, Utah passed a law lowering the legal limit of alcohol in the blood while driving to 0.05, down from 0.08. The regulation was set to go into effect at the end of the years. Now, however, just a couple of months after the bill was passed, lawmakers are reviewing it due to backlash from within the state and across the country.
Utah State Legislature's Transportation Interim Committee interviewed multiple witnesses this month about the potential unintended consequences of the bill. The chair of the committee Rep. Mike Schultz, says that they are considering the possibility of making penalties for DUIs between 0.05 and 0.08 BAC less severe.
The Statewide Association of Prosecutors stand in support of the bill, but they oppose lighter penalties for less severe DUIs because they believe this will blur the lines between being impaired and being sober. "Prosecutors concern is if this committee and the legislature looks at decreasing penalties for that per se, bright line DUI, it will muddy the waters." Multiple defense lawyers oppose the law, even though it would bring them more business because they believe it will inundate the courts with unnecessary criminal cases and potentially strip innocent people of their licenses and means of transportation.
The Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council also supports the bill, saying that it will “promote a cultural norm that drinking and driving are to be separate.” Additionally, Utah Highway Patrol Capt. Steve Winward states that police are not planning on pulling over more drivers, as their criteria for pulling someone over is still the appearance of driving while impaired. Winward thinks that the law is already lowering the rate of Utah citizens who are drinking and driving.
In addition to legal and political responses from local groups, Utah is getting pressure from both its own citizens and from surrounding states who oppose the new law. According to a local radio station, “The governor's office has been inundated with hundreds of calls on the bill, most of them in opposition." Various sources have pointed out that a 120-pound woman could theoretically reach the 0.05 BAC limit with one drink.
Lobbying groups in the surrounding states, such as Nevada, have drawn attention to this fact with a full-page advertisement discouraging residents from visiting Utah on vacation. The American Beverage Institute ran the ad which depicted a woman having her mugshot taken with a sign that reads “Crime: had one drink with dinner.” The Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association also opposes the bill which might discourage patrons from drinking in their establishments while dining. The executive director of this group, Michele Corigliano, says that she plans to testify on a committee in June “in favor of making driving with a level of 0.05% to 0.07% an infraction rather than a DUI.”
Utah Governor Gary Herbert agrees that "There are some areas of improvement I think are warranted and are necessary," but only time will tell how the bill is revised to address its criticism.
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