Utah lawmaker wants to lower DUI level from .08 to .05

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A state lawmaker is proposing a bill that lowers Utah's blood alcohol concentration level for a DUI from .08 to .05.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, plans to introduce the bill in the upcoming legislative session.

"This helps send that message to people, don't drink and drive. There is no safe level of drinking and driving," Rep. Thurston told FOX 13 on Friday.

Rep. Thurston's bill would make Utah the first in the nation to lower its BAC level. He said .05 DUI rates exist in countries across Europe, Africa and Asia. He also pointed out that countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary have a .00 limit for drivers.

A Utah Highway Patrol trooper makes a DUI arrest in a 2015 bust. (FOX 13 file image)

A Utah Highway Patrol trooper makes a DUI arrest in a 2015 bust. (FOX 13 file image)

"You don't want people at .07 driving. You don't want people at .05 driving. In reality, you don't want people lower than that driving because they are starting to be impaired as low as .02 or .03," he said.

The bill is expected to be controversial in the Utah State Legislature, despite lawmakers' consistent support for liquor control legislation. Rep. Thurston said he was looking out for public safety and not targeting liquor.

Already, some groups have vowed to fight it. Connor Boyack, the president of the libertarian think tank Libertas Institute, posted on Twitter that his group would oppose it.

Thurston said drunk driving is the third most common factor contributing to car crash deaths, behind speeding and people not wearing their seat belts.

Tyler Ayres, an attorney who represents people accused of DUIs, said he did not believe such legislation would be effective. He said DUI rates have been declining in Utah and accused the bill of being a "revenue generator."

"They're consuming less alcohol and so now our legislature evidently is saying we're not getting the revenue from it, so we better lower the legal limit so as soon as they have a single drink the average person will be at or near .05," he said.

Ayres said he has lawsuits pending against police and the state of Utah over officers already arresting people for impairment below .08. Those lawsuits are pending in federal court.

Surprisingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving said it would not support a bill lowering the DUI legal limit. Utah MADD chapter president Art Brown told FOX 13 the group prefers to focus on interlock devices prohibiting people from driving drunk.

"MADD's position is we really emphasize interlocks and getting those on people, and staying .08," he said.

The conservative think tank Sutherland Institute said it supported Rep. Thurston's bill.

"Lowering the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level from .08 to .05 is about protecting innocent people from impaired driving. Our laws have misled the public into thinking that as long as drivers are under .08 BAC they are not impaired, when the data show that at .05 BAC, drivers exhibit clear signs of impairment and crash risk jumps significantly," Sutherland Policy Director Derek Monson wrote in a statement.

The bill is expected to be introduced in the legislature in the 2017 session.