Officers arrested 38 drivers in January whose blood alcohol level breached Utah’s stringent new DUI law. But just four of those arrested were violating the new rule alone, the Utah Department of Public Safety reported Monday. The rest were underage or had other drugs in their system, for example.
The state became the first to introduce a .05 blood alcohol content limit for driving on December 30. Out of 844 drink driving arrests, tests showed 38 people had a blood alcohol level between .05 and .079.
Of that 38, seven drivers were under 21 years old, two had also taken prescription and or/illegal drugs and one refused police tests before a warrant was issued. Twenty-four drivers were under restriction for previous alcohol issues.
Utah Highway Patrol Sergeant Nicholas Street told local station Fox 13 this showed officers were arresting people because they were impaired.
“We’re happy to see troopers still making arrests based on impairment,” he said. “We think based on those numbers it’s the same for all law enforcement across the state.”
Back in February 2018, Utah Governor Gary Herbert told The Salt Lake Tribune the new rule was only meant to catch out drivers who were clearly impaired. “If you are weaving back and forth on the road, a policeman will pull you over. They will then do a field sobriety test,” he said. If a driver fails their sobriety test, they may then have their blood alcohol content tested, he said.
“We’re not saying people can’t drink. You can certainly access a drink, and you can drink until your eyes bug out if you want. We’re just saying don’t drive and drink,” Herbert added.
The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended a drop to 0.5 since 2013. NTSB member Bella Dinh-Zarr previously told CNN she hopes Utah’s law change is “a great incentive for other states and an encouragement to follow suit.”
But groups like the American Beverage Institute have questioned the .05 standard. Managing director Sarah Longwell said in a statement last January: “Someone with a 0.05 BAC [blood alcohol content] 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.”
Utah isn’t the only state tough on drink driving. First time DUI offenders in Arizona must have a breathalyzer installed in their cars for a year, AZ Central notes. If a driver scores more than .02, their engine won’t start.
In Florida, first time offenders may have their license suspended for six months to one year. They could also spend up to six months in jail.