While the state of Utah already has some of the lowest fatalities in alcohol-related impaired driving accidents in the country, it also has a lower blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit than other states. Awareness of Utah's new BAC limit and its other drunk driving laws may prevent someone from making the costly and potentially deadly mistake of getting behind the wheel while impaired.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
On December 30, 2018, the state once again lowered its legal BAC limit to 0.05 percent.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been encouraging all states to reduce their BAC limit for several years. The NTSB hopes Utah's decision will jump-start a lower limit nationally, since studies show that impairment can begin with just a small amount of alcohol.
Read More: What Is the Statute of Limitations for a DUI/DWI?
Drunk Driving in Utah
According to NOLO, the official term for drunk driving in the state of Utah is "driving under the influence" (DUI). A person who violates the state's DUI laws does so by not being capable of operating a vehicle safely due to impairment by drugs, alcohol or a combination of both, or by having a BAC of 0.05 percent or higher, also known as "per se" DUI. Commercial vehicle drivers have an even lower BAC limit at 0.04 percent, and drivers under the age of 21 cannot have any amount of alcohol in their system.
A DUI arrest can occur even when a motor vehicle is at a standstill – the motorist only needs to be in "actual physical control" while showing impairment. The court bases this decision on certain circumstances:
- If the driver was in the driver's seat.
- If the driver had their key in the ignition.
- If the driver was asleep or awake.
Read More: The Pros & Cons of a Standard DUI
Utah's BAC History
Utah has previously led the way in stricter drunken driving laws. In 1983, it was the first state to lower its BAC limit to 0.08 percent from 0.10 percent, according to NPR. Over the next two decades, this limit would become the standard for all states, and alcohol-related traffic fatalities fell 10 percent over that time.
On December 30, 2018, the state once again lowered its legal BAC limit to 0.05 percent. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been encouraging all states to reduce their BAC limit for several years.
The NTSB hopes Utah's decision will jump-start a lower limit nationally, since studies show that impairment can begin with just a small amount of alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, impairment can occur by consuming 12 ounces of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 1.5 ounce shot of liquor. Age, gender, weight and time are also factors in a driver's BAC level and their ability to operate a vehicle safely.
Read More: How to Check Driver's License History
Utah DUI Enforcement
How Utah enforces its drunk driving laws will not change. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, law enforcement officers who suspect drunk driving will continue to focus their attention on obvious impairment over blood alcohol levels. A driver does not have to take a breathalyzer or field sobriety test during a traffic stop unless an arrest occurs. If the arresting officer requests a chemical test, a refusal is a violation of state law and carries a license suspension penalty of 18 to 36 months.
Utah Highway Patrol has retrained its police officers in field sobriety testing in light of the new law to ensure that they carry out a DUI traffic stop to meet the state's standards. Since the law's implementation, the Utah Department of Public Safety has collected data on alcohol-related injuries and fatalities. It will take three to five years to fully understand the effect the lower BAC legal limit has had on drunk driving.
Read More: What Is Suspicion of DUI?
First Offense DUI Conviction and Penalties
A driver with a BAC of 0.05 or greater faces these penalties for a first-time DUI in Utah:
- 48 hours of jail time.
- 48 hours of community service or electronic home monitoring (EHM).
- Minimum fine of $1,310.
- Completion of substance abuse screening.
- Substance abuse treatment or education course.
- Ignition interlock device (IID) installation.
- Driver's license revocation.
A driver with a high (or enhanced) BAC of 0.16 percent or greater will also receive a supervised probation sentence, as well as a SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor) bracelet, which routinely tests the offender for alcohol consumption.
A first-offense DUI becomes a felony if the offender was responsible for vehicular homicide. Additionally, subsequent DUIs can become felonies under the following circumstance – a driver has two prior DUI charges within 10 years and caused bodily injury or has a previous felony DUI. Its penalties can include up to five years in prison, a minimum $2,850 fine, substance abuse screening and subsequent treatment or education courses, installation of an IID and license suspension.
Read More: How to Get a DUI Removed From Your Driving Record
- NPR: Utah First In The Nation To Lower Its DUI Limit To .05 Percent
- CDC: Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions
- The Salt Lake Tribune: Utah now has the strictest drunken driving limit in the nation. Here are 9 things to know about the new state law.
- NOLO: Utah Drunk Driving Laws, Penalties, and Consequences
- NOLO: First-Offense DUI in Utah
- Legal Beagle: Utah DUI Laws, Fines, Penalties & Consequences
- Legal Beagle: The Pros & Cons of a Standard DUI
- Legal Beagle: What Is Suspicion of DUI?
- Legal Beagle: How to Get a DUI Removed From Your Driving Record
- Legal Beagle: How to Check Driver's License History
- Legal Beagle: What Is the Statute of Limitations for a DUI/DWI?
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.