House approves minor tweak to Utah’s toughest-in-nation DUI law

In this Monday, May 29, 2017 still image taken from video provided by the Jupiter Police Department Tiger Woods steps off line during a field sobriety test after he was found sound asleep behind the wheel of his car partially on the road in Jupiter, Fla. Woods was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. Woods issued a statement nearly 10 hours after he was released from jail on Monday that alcohol was not involved. (Jupiter Police Department via AP)

After only a minute of debate, the Utah House on Friday unanimously made a minor tweak to Utah’s new toughest-in-the-nation drunken driving law.

It voted 65-0 to pass HB98, and sent it to the Senate, to fix a problem that could have stopped some new-immigrant drivers from drinking even a drop of alcohol and driving.

The DUI law passed last year to lower the blood alcohol level where drivers are considered drunk from .08 to .05. It also banned new “novice drivers” from drinking even a drop and driving.

Such novices are those who have less than two years of driving experience after obtaining their first license here.

But Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, author of the new law, said it was later discovered that the provision could prevent older adult immigrants from other countries who just obtained a first license here from drinking and driving at all.

In this Jan. 23, 2018, photo, Republican Rep. Norm Thurston speaks on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives, in Salt Lake City. A bill offering IUDs and other family planning assistance through Medicaid has passed through the state House and is headed to the state Senate. Thurston sees the bill as a way to keep low-income women from having children and says it reinforces the idea that "babies hold back families." (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The new bill would ban only novice drivers younger than age 21 from any drinking and driving.

The .05 BAC law takes effect on Dec. 30. Its effective date was delayed to try to find and correct problems. Others have pushed for repeal or different tiers of penalties for different BAC levels, but such legislation generally has stalled.

Thurston is also pushing another bill, HB328, to tweak the DUI law so that it would allow someone who is legally intoxicated to carry a weapon and to use a weapon in self-defense while on their own property.

The American Beverage Institute argues the bill is hypocritical, and ran a newspaper ad this week with the headline, “Too Drunk to Drive, But Sober Enough to Carry a .45?”

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