SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker wants to delay what would be the nation’s toughest DUI law for four years, though she would rather do away with it all together.
Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, filed HB345 on Wednesday proposing to put off Utah dropping the legal blood alcohol content for driving from .08 percent to .05 percent until 2022. The law is set to take effect Dec. 30.
“There can be some grave consequences to this. I’m not sure we have fleshed those out as a state,” Kwan said. “At this point, I say let’s just slow down a minute and look at the research or develop research.”
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who sponsored the controversial legislation last year, opposes postponing the start date.
“I don’t see why we would do that. Any delay runs the risk of more lives lost,” he said.
Kwan said she’s not convinced impairment starts at .05 percent blood alcohol content.
People for years have stopped for a beer after work, and being stopped for DUI at the lower standard could result in them losing their driver’s license and negatively impact their jobs and families, she said.
Also, Utah’s tourism and hospitality industries say the law would hurt business, Kwan said.
Thurston said there is “ample” evidence showing the impact of blood alcohol levels on impairment, pointing to a 2000 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study. It found “significant” impairment from .02 percent to .10 percent.
The American Beverage Institute says Utah’s law is rooted in flawed research and faulty assumptions.
In science, “significant” means “nonrandom,” so when researchers describe .05 percent blood alcohol content as causing significant impairment, it means there’s some measurable difference between sober drivers and drivers at that level, but it doesn’t mean they are impaired, according to the beverage institute.
“Someone with a .05 BAC is not meaningfully impaired, and making such a threshold the legal standard will only distract law enforcement from the most dangerous high-BAC offenders on the road,” Sarah Longwell, American Beverage Institute executive director, said recently.
Kwan said she “seriously” thought about running a bill to repeal the law, but that she’s not sure there is the political will to do that.
“I think the policy is a bad policy. I’m not sure how we’re going to administrate it,” she said.
Thurston has legislation to tweak the law after legislative committees studied its possible unintended impacts last summer.