You Don't Have to be Buzzed to Get Busted for DUI in Utah
Utah lowered its tolerance for drinking and driving to .05 BAC
on August 21, 2017
Updated on July 20, 2022
We all know that substances and driving motor vehicles don’t mix. It’s a good idea to find another way home after you’ve had a few. Several states have upped the stakes for DUI in recent years, tacking on harsh first-time penalties like license suspension, stiff fines, and even jail time. Utahans are even more at risk for such penalties and DUI arrest.
The state legislature lowered the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit to .05 percent (that is, 5 grams of alcohol for every 100 milliliters of blood). This change represents a departure from the standard adhered to in all other states, of .08 percent, and is scheduled to take effect Dec. 30, 2018. So as of New Year’s Eve 2018, you can be found legally impaired and subject to Utah DUI prosecution when a breath test or blood test show that you have a blood alcohol concentration of .05 percent.
How many drinks results in this amount of alcohol, and thus puts you at risk for DUI? It’s hard to say with scientific accuracy, but calculators suggest a 135-pound woman who had three drinks in four hours would be over the new legal limit in Utah. It may be a hallmark of intoxication that you can’t judge your own impairment, but how can Utahans assess if they can legally drive now, and avoid drunk driving?
We put that question to Clayton Simms, a criminal defense attorney from Salt Lake City. Simms asserts that there is plenty to be concerned about in the new law, and the conundrum it presents for law enforcement. “Basically, anyone could be charged with DUI based on something like the officer smelling alcohol, which might be coming from the passenger, not the driver, or you might have had a glass of wine with dinner,” he says. Specifically, Simms has questions about how field sobriety tests will be handled when they are calibrated to assess .08, not .05. “You could pass a field sobriety test, but you’ve been drinking, so they take you in anyway.”
Simms cautions that this could have a huge impact on unsuspecting visitors to the state, which has a sizeable tourist industry. Although the Utah law has yet to take effect, he does not foresee any practical limits on enforcement. “You will be down at the station for .05; you will be in jail for .05.”
The social and personal cost of ending up on the wrong side of this law and incurring DUI penalties promise to be huge. In addition to having a criminal conviction on your record, spending time in jail, revocation of your driver’s license, and possibly losing your job, the financial expense of a DUI case is extreme. Estimates that account for fines, increased insurance premiums, impounding and towing, lost wages, defense attorney fees and other DUI-caused expenses place the cost at between $8,500 and $20,000.
That is an expensive glass of wine.
Until 2019, the standard of .08 will continue to be the basis for DUI prosecution.