More pushback over Utah's .05 percent DUI threshold

More pushback over Utah's .05 percent DUI threshold


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SALT LAKE CITY — A national hospitality and alcohol trade group is again pushing back against a lower DUI threshold set to take effect in Utah in a year.

Utah has trouble enforcing a prior law requiring drivers with DUI convictions to install breathalyzer devices that lock the ignition until a sober reading is recorded, the American Beverage Institute said Tuesday in a prepared statement.

Utah lawmakers "should focus on enforcing existing laws targeting convicted drunk drivers rather than passing new ones that target moderate social drinkers," said Sarah Longwell, the trade organization's managing director.

The 2017 law dropping the BAC level and designed to make Utah's roads safer is set to take effect in December 2018. The change makes the Beehive State the first in the country to drop the national .08 percent blood alcohol content standard to .05 percent.

Longwell said the law fails to address repeat offenders and drivers with high blood alcohol content, and instead goes after "drivers who had a drink with dinner."

The trade organization cites a November analysis by KSL-TV that found 72 percent of Utah’s convicted drunken drivers failed to install the mandatory device. The group also points to a separate report from the Traffic Injury Research Foundation stating that Utah's rate of installed ignition interlocks per conviction was 10 percent in 2015. (Manufacturers reported the Utah rate was higher, at about 50 percent).

Chris Caras, director of the Utah Driver License Division, told KSL in November that if offenders are caught without an ignition interlock, they could face fines or have their license revoked or suspended. But Utah law does not provide his agency a mechanism to police compliance, Caras said.

Tuesday was not the first time the Washington, D.C.-based trade group has fought Utah's new statute. Earlier this year, it took out full-page ads in national and Utah newspapers, with a fake mug shot under the banner “Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation.”

Local hospitality representatives have criticized the new law, and some leaders of Utah's ski resorts have said they plan to urge Utah lawmakers to adjust penalties based on the degree of alcohol in the bloodstream.

Legislators have considered reducing penalties for offenses below 0.08 percent, but bill sponsor Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, has said he and his colleagues decided a graduated system would prove impractical. Thurston did not immediately respond to a phone message late Tuesday.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill into law but asked lawmakers to study unintended consequences. Thurston has said he expects to tweak the measure in the 2018 legislative session but does not expect major changes.

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