The .05 DUI law is getting reviewed again by Utah State Legislature

Posted at 6:33 PM, May 17, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's controversial .05 DUI law hasn't even taken effect yet, but lawmakers are already reviewing it.

At a meeting of the Utah State Legislature's Transportation Interim Committee on Wednesday, a panel of witnesses were quizzed about "unintended consequences" of the new law. Utah has become the first state in the nation to lower its Blood Alcohol Content level from .08 to .05.

"An unintended consequence of a .05 is additional arrests, number one," said Richard Mauro, a criminal defense attorney. "Number two, a determination about impairment."

Criminal defense attorney Kelly Cardon said the new law would give him more business, but he was opposed to the new law. The Statewide Association of Prosecutors said they agreed to support the law. The Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council said it also supported it, believing the law would "promote a cultural norm that drinking and driving are to be separate."

Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, the chairman of the committee, said they would look at problems with the new law and whether changes needed to be made. Part of that look would include the potential for reduced penalties for a .05 DUI. Governor Gary Herbert said he is willing to call a special session of the legislature to fix the law before it takes effect at the end of 2018.

"Prosecutors concern is if this committee and the legislature looks at decreasing penalties for that per se, bright line DUI, it will muddy the waters," said Will Carlson of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors.

But Mauro countered that courts would fill up with DUI cases, which would also affect things like driver licenses and transportation. Utah Highway Patrol Capt. Steve Winward said he did not anticipate more arrests, noting their standard for pulling someone over is driving while impaired. Field sobriety and an arrest take place before police determine a BAC.

Winward told FOX 13 that they have already seen a benefit from the new law's chilling effect: ride-share companies are seeing more business and people think the new law has taken effect.

"They (DUI officers) are seeing people that are drinking slightly but not enough to be arrested for DUI but they are thinking that the law’s already in effect so they’re being careful about what they’re doing," he said.

The committee will hear from hospitality and tourism representatives in June, but many lawmakers questioned why they needed to make changes at all.

"We've already made the change, why are we questioning our decision?" said Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy.

Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Taylorsville, said she had concerns about whether perfume or cough syrup could suddenly lead to a DUI arrest under the new law. She also worried about the tourism impact to Utah, since we're the first state to adopt the lower DUI threshold.

"My interpretation of this is it lowers the bar of what drunk is," she told FOX 13.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said he was willing to meet with those who have concerns. He reiterated that the goal of the bill is to save lives and prevent drunk driving.

"We’re here to listen and if there are really things that we had no idea about, great. But we did intend to lower the BAC limit and we did intend to reduce the number of drunk driving trips a day," he said. "Those are things we did intend. Those are things we are still serious about."