Utah’s .05 Statute – Some Follow Up

As we mentioned in a May entry, Utah has amended its drunk-driving statutes(s) to lower the blood alcohol content (BAC) necessary to take a simple instance of driving with alcohol in your system and convert it into Driving Under the Influence (this is referred to as ‘Driving While Intoxicated’ in New York).  The new standard in Utah is a BAC of .05 of 1 percent.  This makes Utah’s anti-drunk-driving scheme the strictest in the US, as every other state uses a standard based on a blood alcohol content of .08.

We’re taking a follow-up look at the statute, because it may represent the future standard for the rest of the US.  To cite our 2013 entry on the subject yet again, much of the rest of the world has adopted a .05 (or stricter) standard, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been advocating a .05 limit for some time.

Even New York, under Governor Andrew Cuomo, has apparently considered reducing the blood alcohol content necessary to create a per se criminal offense at .05, just as Utah has.  This was according to an article in Glens Falls’ Post Star, entitled “How Low Should It Go? The .05 BAC Debate.”  A change along those lines would seem to be consistent with the anti-impaired driving push reflected in 2012’s ‘3-strikes’ rule. That rule has been discussed several times in this blog, of course; promulgated by the Department of Motor Vehicles without legislative input, the rule delays, or in some cases prohibits, re-licensing for drivers with a history of offenses involving alcohol or drugs.  Its purpose is to keep impaired drivers off the road, and the purpose of a .05 standard is the same.  The Post Star’s article was published in 2013, though, when the National Transportation Safety Board first suggested the .05 standard. New York is still at .08, of course.

So what’s going on in Utah?  According to a piece last week on ‘fox13now.com’, the website of a television station in Salt Lake City, Utah, there is a  move to ‘tweak’ the state’s new  law, which was only signed in March of this year. There is even some sentiment in favor of repealing the statute.  At least part of the problem is a predictable resistance to and protest against the new standard on the part of special interest groups.  Other problems are more or less self-inflicted.

As discussed in an article on the Salt Lake Tribune’s website (the article may not be reachable, except via a Google search), the Utah provisions that may be changed – unless the whole .05 experiment is scrapped before it even takes effect in 2018 – include a zero-tolerance provision for ‘alcohol restricted drivers’, a category that includes ‘novice drivers’.  Driving with any alcohol at all in the blood stream can, under the new law, expose a ‘novice driver’ to legal consequences.  Unfortunately, the term ‘novice driver’ doesn’t just include people who haven’t been driving for any length of time.  The term, also includes an individual “who . . . was issued a Utah driver license within the last two years; and. . . has not previously held a driver license in this state or another state.”  This definition, in turn, would allow an experienced driver from Maine, because he has “previously held a driver license in . . . another state,” to have a glass of wine at a restaurant and (as long as he was unimpaired) then drive home.  It would not, however, allow a driver from France (for instance) to do the same thing, even if that driver has had a license from the European Union for years.  In other words, it discriminates against immigrants.

Discrimination was apparently an unintended consequence of the new statute.  But the intended consequences have had some consequences of their own.  According to Fox 13, “the law has faced protests and a campaign designed to discourage people from visiting Utah. Most recently, the American Beverage Institute targeted senior lawmakers over the law.”  For instance, according to the Idaho Statesman, “The American Beverage Institute took out a full-page ad in Tuesday’s Idaho Statesman with the headline “Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation.”