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Alcohol-related crashes down, but more women getting DUIs

By Dennis Romboy | Posted - Oct 19th, 2011 @ 8:04pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Jose Guevara and his wife were driving in West Valley City a year ago when a Chevy van crossed the center line and plowed into them head on.

The impact crushed their Suzuki Forenza. Guevara, 50, died at the scene and his wife suffered severe injuries.

Van driver Rosalina Tofiga Tivao, 42, had a blood- alcohol level of .20, more than twice the legal limit. Police found empty and half-empty beer cans in her van. She pleaded guilty to automobile homicide and was sentenced to prison. It was her third DUI offense.

Tivao is among a slightly increasing number of women caught driving drunk on Utah roads. In the past eight years, the percentage of women arrested for DUI has gone from about 18 percent to 26.5 percent, according to the 2011 DUI report compiled by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

Mary Lou Emerson, director of the Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Counci

Officials were hard-pressed to explain the trend.

I'd like to say DUI-driving is decreasing, but it's probably primarily due to the lack of resources for DUI enforcement.

–Mary Lou Emerson, director of the Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council

Brent Kelsey, associate director of the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, looked at several state and national reports for an answer.

"I really don't see much of a trend in alcohol use among women or anything else that would explain why more women are getting DUIs," he said.

Alcohol and drug treatment admissions have declined and binge drinking among women "kind of bounces year to year," Kelsey said.

"It's an equal-opportunity crime and an equal- opportunity disease," said Mary Lou Emerson, director of the Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council. Emerson presented the annual DUI report to the Legislature on Wednesday.

DUI-related deaths, including Guevara, numbered 25 in 2010, down six from the year before. Emerson called that good news, but added that's too many for a "very preventable violent crime."

The percentage of total fatal accidents that were DUI- related dropped from 12.7 percent to 9.9 percent the past year, according the report.

Report at a glance
DUI-related fatalities
    Down from 34 in 2008 to 31 in 2009.
    Lowest rate of DUI-related fatalities in the nation at 16.4 percent in 2009.

Law Enforcement: Arrests
    15,285 DUI arrests in 2010, down 398 from 2009.
    82 percent for violation of the .08 blood/breath alcohol concentration.
    Seventy-five percent of DUI drivers were male.
    9 percent of arrestees were under the 21. 39 percent were 25 - 36.
    67 percent of arrests were for a first DUI offense, 22 percent for second, 7 percent for third, and 4 percent for fourth and higher.

Also down was the number of DUI arrests in the state, dropping 10 percent to 13,816 for the year. Of that number, 10,109 were men and 3,663 were women. About three- fourths of the arrests were in Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Utah counties.

"I'd like to say DUI-driving is decreasing, but it's probably primarily due to the lack of resources for DUI enforcement," Emerson told lawmakers.

Rep. Steven Eliason, R-Sandy, wondered during the Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee meeting whether it "makes sense for us to consider" lowering the legal limit. He noted the reports shows that at .05 percent blood-alcohol content (about three beers for a 160-pound man) people have difficulty steering and reduced coordination and ability to track objects.

"It's certainly something that would be worth looking at," Emerson said, adding a proposal a few years ago to go to .04 percent failed. All 50 states, she said, have set the limit at .08 percent.

"There's quite a lobby against lowering it. More power to you if you want to tackle that," she told Eliason.

After the meeting, Emerson said zero tolerance would be her preference. "You can't always predict at what level of impairment someone's going to be even after one drink," she said.

The average blood-alcohol content for drivers arrested in Utah is .14 percent, according to the report. That's about seven beers in an hour for a 160-pound man, the report shows.

"A lot of the drunk drivers are in binge-drinking mode," said Art Brown, head of the Utah chapter Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "These people are loading up."

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