Utahns may think their state is toughest in the nation on drunken drivers. Actually, it ranks only No. 8 — at least for now, a new study says.
That comes amid debate about whether Utah is perceived as too tough or weird because of a newly passed first-in-the-nation law to drop the blood alcohol content to be considered drunk from 0.08 to 0.05 percent. It takes effect next year, on Dec. 30, 2018, and wasn’t included in the study.
WalletHub, a personal finance website, released a study Thursday about which states now are the strictest and most lenient on drunken driving, based on typical fines, jail time, license suspension, when DUI becomes a felony and how long prior DUI convictions figure into new DUI penalties.
In specific categories, Utah ranked No. 2 for the minimum fine on a first offense; No. 4 for the minimum fine on a second offense; No. 6 both for how long an old DUI factors into penalties, and for rules on administrative license suspension; No. 9 for minimum jail time for a first offense; No. 10 for minimum jail time for a second offense; and No. 18 for average insurance rate increases after a DUI.
Arizona ranked as the toughest in the nation overall, and had what the study said are the harshest DUI penalties.
Ranking just behind it — and tougher than Utah — were Georgia, Alaska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Connecticut.
The study said South Dakota is the most lenient on drunken drivers, thanks to no mandatory jail time.
Ranking just behind South Dakota for leniency are the District of Columbia, Ohio, North Dakota, Idaho and Maryland.
The study noted that the average fine nationally for a first DUI — $352 — is more expensive than the fare for an Uber ride from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia (about $217).
It noted that first-time offenders nationally spend an average of one day in jail, but repeat offenders spend an average of 21 days.
Meanwhile, the Utah Legislature has been studying this summer how to tweak its new DUI law, HB155, before it becomes law next year — which Gov. Gary Herbert called for when he signed the bill.
For example, one hearing pointed out that the new law is written in a way that would ban new drivers from other countries from driving legally with even a drop of alcohol in their bloodstream — and lawmakers are looking at changing that.
Lawmakers also found that definitions in the law could inadvertently make it illegal for hunters to carry weapons while they exceed the 0.05 limit even when they weren’t driving.
The governor said he is open to a proposal by some to allow three or four other states to enact a similar law first, and then follow, to lessen the likelihood of hurting tourism by being the first state to enforce the new limit.
Herbert said he also is open to creating lesser penalties for those arrested with a BAC of between 0.05 percent and 0.08 percent than for those with higher levels.
Since the law passed, the American Beverage Institute has run periodic ads criticizing it. A controversial one earlier last month suggested that senior citizens — it pictured some, including Herbert and nearly a dozen state lawmakers — are “more impaired ANY TIME they drive” than drivers with a BAC of 0.05 percent.
Meanwhile, a Salt Lake Tribune/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll last month showed Utahns are evenly split over the new law — with 50 percent supporting it, while 47 percent oppose it.
However, it found that most support comes from nondrinking, “very active” Mormons. They were the only religious group to give majority support for the new law by a 61-26 percent margin.
The margins among other groups include: “somewhat active” Mormons, 45-51 percent; “not active” Mormons, 25-76; Catholics, 9-91; Protestants, 7-78; and others, 28-73.