Utah is the first state in the country to lower the blood alcohol limit from .08 to .05, so state lawmakers are wading into uncharted territory.
The law doesn’t take affect for more than 18 months, which gives lawmakers time to identify and alleviate possible unintended consequences associated with the law.
The legislature’s Transportation Interim Committee is rooting out possible unforeseen problems. On Wednesday, the committee heard expert opinions from a panel of attorneys.
One section that went unnoticed during the legislative session is referred to as the “not a drop” provision. It would bar so-called “novice drivers” from consuming any alcohol before driving. That provision was aimed at minors under 21, but new immigrants and foreign visitors also fall into the novice driver category, says Will Carlson of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors.
“It would say that if you’re from a foreign country and you get licensed in Utah, you can’t have any alcohol at all (if you are driving),” says Carlson. “That is an area where prosecutors think it could become constitutionally problematic under (the Equal Protection Clause).”
Carlson recommended dropping that provision from the law.
Defense Attorney Rich Mauro told lawmakers that the law could increase DUI arrests, which in turn bog down the courts.
“You’re likely to see a number of driver’s license appeals to district courts and a more clogged caseload calendar of people appealing their driver’s license hearings,” Mauro says, adding that it could be costly for court systems and law firms.
Lawmakers may consider a two-tiered penalty system, which could give someone arrested for a DUI a lesser penalty if they have a blood alcohol level between .05 and .08. Gov. Gary Herbert says that’s a change he’d consider supporting.
“I’m certainly willing to look at it before I say ‘yes, I support it.’ I think that is a possibility that has good potential,” Herbert said at his monthly news conference on KUED.
Next month lawmakers will consider input from representatives from the hospitality and tourism industries about their concerns with the new law.