Utah’s tough new drunken driving law will likely go into effect as planned the day before New Year’s Eve, as a bill to push back the effective date by one year failed to get enough support during a legislative hearing Wednesday.

The law — which lowers the state’s blood-alcohol content for driving under the influence from 0.08 to 0.05 — is the first of its kind in the country.

House Bill 345, sponsored by Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, would have given groups most affected by the 2017 law, including restaurants and bars, law enforcement and tourism, time to further study its unintended consequences.

“It’s a bad policy and we need to fix it,” Kwan told members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. “We need to do this right, not fast.”

Kwan had originally proposed pushing the effective date back four years. She amended the bill to one year in hopes of gaining more support. Even with the change, she and her supporters couldn’t muster the needed votes, and it failed by a 5-3 margin.

After hearing the reasons to postpone the law, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said he was even more persuaded to vote against such a delay.

“It makes me want to keep it where it is. The bill is working and it hasn’t even taken effect yet,” he said, referring to anecdotal evidence from the Utah Highway Patrol that DUI arrests have gone down since the law was passed.

In fact, at one point Ray proposed moving the effective date up by two weeks, to Dec. 17, 2018. That idea didn’t fly with the committee, either.

HB345 was the second attempt by a Democrat to push back the 0.05 law. Last week, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, introduced a bill that would have postponed the effective date until three other states implemented a similar law. That bill was tabled.


Effective date for Utah’s tough new drunken driving law could be pushed back four years

Feb. 9 • The effective date for Utah’s tough new drunken driving law could be delayed four years — until Dec. 30, 2022 — under a bill introduced Wednesday in the Utah Legislature.

The law — which lowers the state’s blood-alcohol content for driving under the influence from 0.08 to 0.05 — is set to take effect in December.

The law makes Utah the first state in the country to adopt the tougher limit.

House Bill 345, sponsored by Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, would push the date back to give those affected by the law, including restaurants and bars, law enforcement and tourism, time to further study the law’s implementation and the unintended consequences.

HB345 also would change the definition of novice driver, novice learner and alcohol restriction driver in state code. The effective date for those changes would be moved up to this May 18.

The American Beverage Institute, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars placing full-page ads in Idaho and Nevada newspapers as well as USA Today criticizing the new policy, applauded the new proposal.

“While the better outcome for both the safety of Utah’s drivers and economic interests is a full repeal of the 0.05 law, delaying implementation is a step in the right direction,” said Sarah Longwell, ABI’s managing director, in a news release.

She said it gives lawmakers time to address existing traffic safety policies and will give the hospitality and tourism industries, along with legislators, time to navigate the law’s potential “unintended consequences.”

“If Utah wants to set an example for the nation in traffic safety,” she said, it “should slow down and make sure the laws they’re passing are the right ones.

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

Anecdotally, public safety officials have heard that many Utah drivers already assume the new 0.05 limit is in effect and are choosing not to drink and drive.

While the number of drunken-driving arrests was down in 2017, the Utah Department of Public Safety has no way of knowing if the 0.05 law is the reason.