Utah and its cops are bracing for new 0.05 DUI law, which rolls out in five months

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, was the author of Utah's tough new DUI laws, which takes effect Dec. 30, 2018.

Utah’s tough new DUI law takes effect in just over five months, and the Utah Highway Patrol is gearing up for the change.

“We’ve put together a task force on how we are going to usher this in,” UHP Capt. Steve Winward told state lawmakers Wednesday.

Before Dec. 30, Winward said all UHP officers will get four hours of training that will include a review of the state policy on portable Breathalyzer tests and how to look for impairment. Police agencies and prosecutors from around Utah also will get training to maintain consistency.

“We really don’t want to change the way we do business,” Winward told members of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee. “We want to ensure that we are arresting those that are DUI. We want to educate troopers to focus on impairment and not the number 0.05.”

Utah’s new law, passed in 2016, lowers the state’s blood alcohol content (BAC) threshold for driving under the influence from 0.08 to 0.05. The law, which will be the strictest in the country, was timed to take effect on the day before New Year’s Eve, when many people celebrate with too much liquor.

Winward said the department soon will launch a public relations campaign “to let the public know that it’s coming” and to correct misinformation that has been circulating.

“People think that you can only have one drink and you are over the 0.05,” Winward said. “We want to dispel those myths.”

Several factors affect BAC, including the number of drinks, age, gender, body weight and the amount of time that has passed since the first drink. One drink, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is equal to 1.5 ounces of liquor, 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine.

However, the National Transportation Safety Board, which supports a 0.05 limit, has said numerous studies show impairment starts after one alcoholic drink, and people are noticeably impaired at 0.04 — the BAC limit for commercial truck drivers.

Finally, Winward said the UHP also will use new software to track the incidence of 0.05 arrests to determine the success of the law.

Lawmakers have heard that many Utah drivers already assume the new 0.05 limit is in effect and are choosing not to drink and drive.

Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, the committee co-chairman, asked Windward if the UHP has indeed “seen an improvement” since the law was passed.

Winward said all the evidence is anedcdotal, but “the DUI squad has heard comments” to that effect and that Uber and Lyft drivers insist “more people are choosing alternatives to get home” after consuming alcohol.

“So it’s working?” Ipson asked.

“It’s going to work,” Winward responded.