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Could Utah's new normal in DUI law go national?

Utah lawmakers recently toughened DUI laws that reduced the legal limit for drunk driving. The national standard of 0.08 blood alcohol content (BAC) is no longer standard for the state. Starting December 30, 2018, a driver in Utah registering a 0.05 BAC will be arrested for DUI.

With a higher threshold comes possible changes in procedures officers use to screen suspects. According to many members of law enforcement, the new standard may require more than new rules and retraining. The entire manual may require rewriting.

Law enforcement may face challenges in the field, primarily the ability to identify if a driver is truly intoxicated. DUI stops may be more nuanced and difficult in establishing probable cause. Indicators such as erratic driving and slurred speech may not work at 0.05.

A driver admitting to having a drink before driving may still not seem impaired. Conducting field sobriety tests could mean identifying more subtle cues to determine if a suspect is over the new 0.05 legal limit.

Opponents that include the Utah's hospitality industry believe the new law unnecessarily punishes responsible drinkers and harms restaurant business and tourism.

The National Transportation Safety Board, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the National Safety Council are strong proponents of the 0.05 limit. The groups believe that it is necessary because they believe that impairment starts at the first drink.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claims at a 0.05 BAC, a driver may start having trouble steering and have difficulty coordinating, tracking moving objects and responding to emergencies.

Another supporter, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, believes that while the law is not perfect, it will save lives. However, he wants lawmakers to hold a special session to make legislative tweaks or give the state more time to prepare.

The new, precedent-setting normal may be coming to a county and state near you.

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