SOUTH SALT LAKE, Utah — In a conference room at the Unified Police Department, FOX 13 put Utah’s new .05 DUI law to the test.
When it goes into effect on New Year’s Eve, Utah will have the nation’s toughest DUI law, lowering the blood alcohol level from .08 to .05. It’s been the subject of protests and pushback across the state, with worries it will harm tourism and jail casual drinkers. But so far, efforts to repeal it or modify it have failed on Utah’s Capitol Hill.
To see what that could look like, FOX 13 and The Salt Lake Tribune decided to conduct an experiment with Unified Police Department’s DUI squad.
“I’m supposed to be replicating the bar experience,” he said. “You go out for Happy Hour, have a couple of drinks and see if you can make it home.”
I drank cough syrup and had a cup of soup. One of the claims made about the strict new DUI law is cough syrup could lead to an arrest. The cough syrup has a 10% alcohol content, more than the glass of wine or the low-point beer. (The portion size was the recommended limit, and much smaller than what the drinkers had.)
Unified Police officers had everyone eat and wait about 30 minutes. After two beers, Rank, who is a large man, blew a .009. One high-point beer had Stapleford at a .033; while after one glass of wine, Stephenson blew a .013 and Gehrke blew a .007 after a single gin and tonic.
Cough syrup apparently had no effect, registering 0.00 on two separate breathalyzer tests for me. The most I felt was a little tired, like you would after a long day.
Everyone else kept drinking.
After a second high point beer, Stapleford reported feeling a little tipsy. When Unified Police officers tested her, she blew a .053—just barely over the new legal limit.
But on her field sobriety test, Unified Police Detective Kyle Liddiard said she passed.
“At this point, I would not have had enough to arrest her for DUI, but there were signs of impairment,” he said.
Stephenson hit .05 after a second glass of wine, but on a re-test she went down to .047.
“It was a short up and a point down,” said Detective Carrie Rigby.
On repeated breathalyzer tests, Stephenson flirted with .05 all night long. Opponents of the new DUI law have concerns that a mild social drinker could have only a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and wind up in jail.
For Stephenson, who is a petite woman, it appeared that is the case. But she also passed her field sobriety test.
“I feel good,” she said.
Asked if she felt like she could drive, she replied: “Yes! That’s the crazy thing! I think I could, but I’m so close to the limit. So it’s a call for me, right? I think I have to always know: No, you shouldn’t drive.”
Gehrke kept drinking and at two cocktails (without dinner) blew a .025 and a .046.
“I’m feeling a little buzzed, yeah,” he said, guessing his blood alcohol level at .06.
After his fourth gin and tonic, with metered shots over the course of three hours, Gehrke hit .05. However, he showed no significant signs of impairment on the field sobriety test administered by Unified Police.
Rank drank eight beers over the course of three hours and blew a .036.
“What? Point oh three six? No. That can’t be right,” said Officer Mikel Archibeque.
Retesting Rank, he blew a .039. At that point, Rank decided to stop drinking even though he never hit the legal limit. It was already more than he would typically drink, Rank said.
“It was over three hours and, not to be cocky, but it’s Utah beer,” he said.