Governor Gary Herbert signed H.B. 155, Driving Under the Influence and Public Safety Revisions, into law on March 23. H.B. 155 restricts the DUI blood alcohol concentration level from .08 percent to .05 percent, which is lower than the federal DUI regulation and the strictest DUI law in the nation. The law is scheduled to go into effect Dec. 30 2018.
“I voted in favor of H.B. 155 because its main effect will be to help people who drink alcohol reconsider what they are doing when deciding to drive after drinking alcohol,” said Rep. Edward Redd (R) in an email. Redd is also a practicing doctor of internal medicine.
H.B. 155 will help people who currently tend to push the alcohol impairment driving envelope to reconsider their decisions about driving while buzzed, he said. The law will be a more effective deterrent to those driving-impaired individuals than the current standard. Redd said he hopes the law will reduce the “intensity” of how drunk people are when they drive, which will reduce the number of drunk driving fatalities and injuries in Utah.
Utah has the fifth-lowest per capita death rate for DUIs, according to The New York DUI Defense.
“I have taken care of scores of patients who are not dead but are permanently damaged with life-long disabilities due to accidents caused by drivers who were impaired due to alcohol,” Redd said.
For every person who has been killed due to the choice that an alcohol-impaired driver made to get behind the wheel of a car after drinking, there are many others who were not killed but were severely injured, he said.
Not everyone is on board with the law.
“It’s going to cause a lot of problems at first for law enforcement when this first goes into effect,” said Captain Tyson Budge of the Logan City Police Department.
Both he and Redd agree that nobody should get behind the wheel of a car after drinking any alcohol at all.
“It is a serious responsibility to operate a vehicle on a shared public road or highway where your decisions and actions or lack of actions can kill or permanently maim otherwise innocent bystanders,” Redd said.
But it’s the technicalities of H.B. 155 that don’t make sense to Budge. He said it’s a redundant measure.
The current, statewide law allows police officers to arrest people who have a lower-than .08 percent BAC if they fail the field sobriety test, which includes the one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn test and the horizontal gaze test. In other words, if an individual was pulled over and blew into a breathalyzer with a blood-alcohol level of .05 percent but failed the sobriety test, that individual could be charged with a DUI.
“We need to stop making new laws and start getting rid of some laws that don’t make sense,” Budge said.
Redd said because of the current law, the state doesn’t anticipate seeing a substantial increase in the number of DUI arrests once the law goes into place.
“In fact, I would expect that H.B. 155 may actually result in lower arrest rates due to the deterrent effect of the law,” he said, “meaning that because of the law, people realize that in Utah impaired driving due to alcohol is not tolerated.”
Redd said he hopes this will encourage people to get a designated driver, arrange for an Uber, or not drink while they’re out. People do not magically become impaired as their BAC goes from 0.079 percent to 0.08 percent, Redd said.
Driving after drinking one beer an hour ago leaves the average person with a blood alcohol concentration of .02-.04 percent. Under those conditions, those who get behind the wheel of a car are 1.4 times more likely to be killed in a car crash, according to Texas A&M University.
But if that person drinks one or two beers per hour, their blood alcohol concentration would be between .05 percent and .09 percent and those drivers are 11 times more likely to be killed in a car accident.
Even with the sobriety tests and breathalyzers, it’s hard to tell how intoxicated someone is, Budge said. There are so many different factors that change how alcohol impacts people, including how much and how recently they ate, what prescription pills they are taking, what other illicit drugs they took, how much they drank, or what they drank.
Budge said the Logan City Police Department will launch a campaign to educate people about the repercussions of the new law. He says the department hopes to go into local bars and teach people there what a .05 percent blood alcohol level feels like.
“When you’re drinking you don’t necessarily know when you’re a .05 or a .08 percent,” he said.
Mikaila Young, a computer science student, said when she drinks, she doesn’t know when she’s hit the .08 percent blood alcohol concentration level because drinking is different for her every time.
“Usually after one or two beers I’m fine, but it definitely depends on how much I’ve eaten,” she said.
Some see H.B. 155 as an infringement of their personal liberties, Redd said.
“Well, what about the personal liberties of those who share public highways with alcohol-impaired drivers but do not want to be injured, permanently maimed or killed?” he said.