Utah Legislature passes bill lowering DUI threshold to 0.05

File photo: A police officer puts a driver suspected of driving impaired though field sobriety tests while other officers investigate the aftermath of a vehicle rollover that occurred in the parking lot of an LDS chapel in St. George. The driver of the BMW that rolled was arrested for suspected impairment while his passenger, a woman ejected during the rollover, was taken to the hospital, St. George, Utah, Feb. 2, 2017 | photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Utah is now a signature away from being the first state to have a blood alcohol content limit of 0.05.

2017’s House Bill 155, Driving Under the Influence and Public Safety Revisions, passed the Utah Senate Wednesday in a 17-12 vote. It passed the Utah House in February with a 48-26 vote. It now moves to the desk of Gov. Gary Herbert for consideration.

Sen Stuart Adams, R-Layton, speaks in favor of 2017’s House Bill 155 during discussion on the Senate floor. The bill passed 17-12 and is poised to make Utah the first state with a blood alcohol content limit of 0,05, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 8, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

“Many people believe impairment begins at 0.08,” Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, the bill’s co-sponsor, said on the Senate floor. “That is simply untrue.”

At a 0.05 BAC limit, Adams said, drivers are impaired, even if they don’t realize it.

At that limit a driver can have problems with small muscle control, have impaired judgment and a lack of inhibition, have reduced coordination and ability to track movement, as well as a reduced ability to respond to emergency driving situations, Adams said.

“(It’s) enough to impair their ability to drive,” he said.

While Utah would be the first state in the nation to adopt a 0.05 BAC limit, Adams pointed to Canada and many European and Asian nations that enforce a 0.05 limit.

An estimated 80 percent of the world’s population is under that limit, Adams said. The United States is in the minority, he said.

“I think we need to send a message (that) you should not drink and drive,” Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said.

Others on the Senate floor weren’t so sure about the bill.

Sen. James Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, speaks against 2017’s House Bill 155 during discussion on the Senate floor. The bill passed 17-12 and is poised to make Utah the first state with a blood alcohol content limit of 0,05, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 8, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

Sen. James Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, argued that studies supporting a need to lower the BAC limit weren’t there, and that Utah should let another state try lower the drunk driving threshold first. At least that way there could be data to start working from after a while.

For example, it is currently unknown if impairment-related arrests will increase or not due to lowering the limit because it hasn’t been done in any other state yet.

Adams argued there was enough data already, and cited studies from the National Transportation Safety Board, which supports the bill and an overall, nationwide move to a 0.05 BAC limit.

According to the NTSB, 63 lives are lost each year on Utah roads due to impaired driving, Adams said, and he believes that lowering the BAC limit will help save lives.

As to increased arrests, Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo, previously said any increase in DUI-related arrests would not be as dramatic as the bill’s opponents claimed.

However, Dabakis said a 0.05 BAC limit is less impairment than what someone experiences while talking on a mobile phone via a hands-free device as they drive.

“Many new DUIs,” he said over Twitter.

The Libertas Institute, a libertarian think-tank that also opposes the 0.05 BAC limit, repeated a concern over Twitter that the law could target otherwise lawful drivers.

Dabakis was also concerned that Utah, a state that already has a reputation for weirdness when it comes to alcohol law, may be hurting its future tourism prospects by passing the new BAC limit. He also said that, according to Mothers Against Drink Driving, less than 1 percent of fatal DUI crashes involved BAC levels of less than 0.08.

“Utah leads,” Adams said. “I think we ought to lead now.”

Southern Utah Sens. Ralph Okerlund and Don Ipson voted for the bill, while Sens. Evan Vickers and David Hinkins voted against it.

Southern Utah Reps. Walt Brooks, Merrill Nelson, Brad Last, John Westwood, Mike Noel, V. Lowry Snow and Jon Stanard each voted for the bill.

Resources

Read moreSee all St. George News reports on Utah Legislature 2017 issues

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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