The state of Utah ignited a firestorm of controversy when they changed the legal blood limit from the US standard of .08 to .05. Although the .05 blood limit is staying put, the penalty system that goes along with it is up for debate.
The law was only recently approved and signed by Governor Gary Herbert, and it was passed based on recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board that all states lower their legal blood limit to .05. The new blood limit will take effect in December 2018, but according to the Governor, changes to the law may be coming before then.
He announced that the Utah State Legislature will create a tiered system of penalties for anyone arrested for drunk driving in Utah, and that the state will stick to a “Colorado model” of strict to progressively harsher penalties based on blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of arrest.
The Colorado model of penalties includes DWAI (driving while ability impaired), a chargeable offense at the .05 BAC level, and DUI (driving under the influence), chargeable after .08. The difference between DWAI and DUI in Colorado is how severe the penalties are: a first time DWAI charge will give you eight points toward a driver’s license suspension and up to $500 in fines, but with a DUI you’ll lose your license and receive up to $1,000 in fines.
The sponsors of the Utah bill aren’t exactly on board with the idea of tiered penalties. That’s because the bottom line for this change to the legal blood limit was to save lives, and changing the penalties may result in more drunk drivers on the roads. Opponents of the new legal blood limit aren’t overly supportive of the tiered penalty system either: they’d rather see the entire law repealed before it comes into play in 2018.
It looks as if this law is going to cause Utah some growing pains. But just as there are bumps in the road for all positive changes, this could be a rough patch before the state finally adjusts to .05.