Utah Now Has The Strictest Drunk Driving Laws In The US

Drinking and driving is a crime throughout the United States. Each State has different laws that define how much alcohol consumption deprives a person of his or her driving privileges and how harshly the crime is punished in terms of prison time and financial penalties; some States are much stricter than others.

Currently, Utah is set to become the State with the nation’s strictest drunk driving laws after passing of a law that lowers the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) from 0.08 to 0.05, making it the lowest legal alcohol threshold in the country. After the law goes into effect, an average 160 pound man would be considered too drunk to drive after having two drinks over a one hour period.

The law has been heavily criticized because of the harsh penalties it would place on people for driving after consuming what critics argue are amounts of liquor which wouldn’t have a very dangerously inebriating effect on someone’s driving competency. A first DUI conviction in the State of Utah can result in a myriad of penalties which can range from expensive financial penalties to jail time as well as the potential installation of an expensive Interlock Ignition Device (IID) or the imposition of Alcohol Restricted Driving privileges (ARD) which mean that the person convicted of DUI can’t drive with any amount of alcohol in his or her system.

Critics have argued that the new law can seriously damage Utah’s tourism industry as tourists are more likely to visit places where drinking such small amounts of alcohol will be less of a hassle. Utah is home to fourteen ski resorts, five national parks, seven national monuments and forty three state parks. These locations make up Utah’s diverse travel and tourism industry and are very dependent on travelers and tourists from other States. In 2016, travelers spent $8.17 billion in Utah, which translated into $1.15 billion in state and local tax revenues. There are fears that cutting the legal BAC limit down to 0.05 will cut a significant chunk out of these numbers and affect Utah’s financial prosperity as a State.

Critics also press that the law will likely increase the number of DUI convictions and will have no effect on the number of inebriated people operating motor vehicles. They argue that arresting people for driving after moderate alcohol use, which will likely not affect their competence at driving, does not mean that those who habitually drive after heavier alcohol use will change their habits.

Proponents of the law such as Senator Lyle Hillyard reply that the state needs to send a strong message against drinking and driving, and that having a stricter BAC policy will make people in general less likely to drive after drinking, because they know they are more likely to fail a breathalyzer test.

Advocates who are in favor of having 0.05 as the legal BAC limit also argue that all tourists don’t come to Utah just to drink. They also cite European BAC laws, and mention most European countries including international tourist hotspots like Germany, Italy, Greece and France.