Perspectives: Utah’s new DUI law, well-intentioned but misguided

Composite image, St. George News

OPINION – Many of us recall the sci-fi movie “Minority Report” in which Tom Cruise played a law enforcement officer tasked with enforcing “pre-crime.”

Offenders were brought to justice, not based upon what they had actually done, but rather upon the psychically-divined premise that they might commit a crime in the future.

It certainly made for an intriguing movie plot.

This idea also seems to have inspired certain lawmakers in Utah who seem to hold to the idea wryly expressed by movie outlaw Josey Wales that, “There ain’t no end to doing right.”

This past week, the Legislature passed its 2017 House Bill 155, Driving Under the Influence and Public Safety Revisions, which would lower the blood alcohol content threshold for a DUI offense to .05 percent. While it appears that Utah will be taking a tougher stand on DUI, there is a definite downside to this legislation.

Before going any further, there’s something I need to make clear.

Drunk driving is never OK. Did you get that? Drunk driving is never OK.

I will be stating this several times throughout this column for those who need repetition to hear me drive the point home.

Even so, I can guarantee with near certainty that someone will misconstrue what I’m about to say as an endorsement of drunk driving.

I drive on the roads just like you do. I’ve encountered and called in drunk drivers who were dangerously drifting throughout all the lanes of travel.

I have no desire to see anyone killed or injured by their criminal foolishness.

Having said that, this law is not a good law. It invites the state into the lives of people who may pose no threat whatsoever and criminalizes behavior that may have harmed no one.

I remind you once again that drunk driving is never OK.

The problem is that an arbitrary number is not a reliable indicator that the person behind the wheel is driving drunk. People process alcohol differently based upon body weight, metabolism and personal tolerance.

As automotive writer Eric Peters has noted, some people are better drivers with trace amounts of alcohol in their systems than others are when absolutely sober.

Peters writes:

Most people now equate having ‘x’ amount of alcohol in your system – in ever declining percentages – with ‘drunk driving.’ It is an epic victory of demagoguery and propaganda.

The merest potential connection; the flimsiest hint of possibility, no matter how tenuous or stretched. It’s now all you need to be regarded as having actually done something.

For the sake of those whose minds just slammed shut, I again remind you that drunk driving is never OK.

I’m asking you to make the distinction between someone who is impaired or drunk and someone who has exceeded an arbitrary number. A number that may or may not reflect an actual degree of impairment.

Think about it, if it’s such a slam dunk that .05 percent BAC is ironclad proof of impairment, why did law enforcement, for decades, allow people to skate when they blew .07 percent?

I know it’s painful to think outside the limits of conventional wisdom. I understand that you’re simply trying hard to keep your mental universe free of contradictions.

Let me assure you once more that drunk driving is never OK.

A person whose driving is posing an objective risk of harm to others can be held accountable through criminal laws against reckless or distracted driving. What if their driving shows no evidence of recklessness or inattention?

Do we assume that they are driving drunk because the new lower BAC limit says so?

Keep in mind that warrantless DUI checkpoints are a reality in Utah. What the Legislature has done is handed law enforcement a finer net through which to strain the innocent and guilty alike.

Is there any doubt that more people who pose no objective threat will be “caught” thanks to new technicalities that have been created through this legislation?

How does this not equal criminalizing behavior that has harmed no one?

A quick reminder for those who are hearing their pulse in their ears, drunk driving is never OK.

Holding people accountable for their behavior is a proper function of the law. The question that must be answered is when the law should be brought to bear.

Proper government requires that the law be brought to bear in a protective manner, meaning: Justice is pursued only after an objectively measurable harm has occurred.

Lawmakers clearly favor a precrime approach in order to appear “tough on crime” and to justify their existence by creating new layers of law and regulation.

Under their preventive approach, lawmakers seek to punish people for what might have happened.

One last time, drunk driving is never OK.

Then again, neither is artificially increasing the opportunity for the state to insinuate itself into our lives without clear probable cause.

We’d be wise to ask where all this precrime thinking leads.

Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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18 Comments

  • desertgirl March 13, 2017 at 8:16 am

    .05 is equivalent to one drink. So, anyone who goes out for dinner and has a drink and leaves in less than a hour is considered legally impaired. Ridiculous. The percentage of adults impaired by a single drink is remarkably tiny; this law has zero positive effects on road safety and gives government more control over our lives to no purpose.

  • Lastdays March 13, 2017 at 8:52 am

    Driving with any impairment is NEVER okay.
    When someone is behind the wheel of a vehicle and starts driving, it requires their FULL attention without exception.
    For instance, there is way too many unnecessary and avoidable wrecks and crashes in the St. George area.
    These drivers and their driving habits and or impairments are not acceptable anymore. This Dip-shittery behind the wheel of many drivers needs to stop !
    So in my opinion, 0.00 BAC is the only acceptable standard.

  • Blemonds March 13, 2017 at 9:35 am

    Hyde seems to be suggesting that driving while a “little bit drunk” is OK

    • Real Life March 13, 2017 at 5:22 pm

      Where do you set the limit for all the women around here driving all jacked up on pills? If having one Utah 3.2% near beer is enough to get a DUI, then what should be the penalty for somebody texting and driving, which is way worse? Just saying. It is no coincidence that this law came at the same time of the removal of the “Zion Curtain”. The Peoples Republic of Utah will always struggle when it comes to common sense laws.

      • .... March 14, 2017 at 9:09 pm

        Doesn’t bother me. I don’t have to work for a living. Ha ha ! and what would you know about common sense ! ha ha. . duhhhhhh

  • great success March 13, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Well said Bryan!

    If I’m looking hard enough, I see someone on their phone while driving every time I drive. Data resoundingly shows that drivers are MUCH more impaired texting and driving than if at the legal limit.

    Speeding is another issue that results in far less legal consequences but takes more lives on the road.

    Utah law makers and their narrowed ideologies have once again failed to be consistent in their quest to save lives.

  • ladybugavenger March 13, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Even if marijuana became legal, you wouldn’t be able to ever drive because it stays in your system for 30 days or so. I’m sure Utah and other states, like Nevada, won’t let you drive under the influence of marijuana. Where’s the impaired line? That was a side note of my legalize marijuana protest and the kinks that the gov’t will place upon it. As for alcohol, the .05 sets presidance to never legalize marijuana in Utah. It’s not that you can’t drink, you can’t drink and drive. If no one drove with alcohol in their system, you would would see alcohol related fatalities be at zero. but as a whole, would fatalities go down? I don’t think so, but We will never know.

    Don’t drink and drive

    • .... March 14, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      This will make more people move to Oklahoma

      • ladybugavenger March 15, 2017 at 7:07 pm

        Cost of living is low. May not be a bad idea for people struggling financially. I actually make a little more money here than in Utah and houses are half the price. Rent is equivalent…..so come buy a house for 1/2 the price. There are jobs here

  • Harold S. March 13, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Impairment starts with the first drink. Alcohol affects reasoning in the brain, therefore a person’s reasoning will be affected by the first drink causing impairment. The question is how tolerable should the law be on the level of impairment? I support this law because I do believe that a person operating a motor vehicle should have any measurable alcohol in their body while driving. Drinking and driving all together should be against the law, but it is not. It’s the level of impairment that makes it illegal.

  • comments March 13, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Any amount of alcohol will impair driving ability. If your driving erratically enough to be pulled over for DUI then your likely drunk–whatever the blood alcohol level.

  • outsider_100@hotmail.com March 13, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    While the 0.08 BAC limit has been widely accepted within the United States, many countries outside of North America have adopted the lower 0.05 limit, and have enjoyed a statistically lower level of deaths due to alcohol-impaired drivers. My guess is that the real reduction is less likely a result of fewer drivers behind the wheel with BAC in the range between 0.05 and 0.08, but more likely that drivers chose to take a taxi, or ride with a “designated driver” instead of risking getting stopped at a DUI checkpoint.
    Since the hospitality industry enjoys disproportionately lucrative profits from the sale of alcoholic beverages, perhaps they should be figuring out how to do a better job keeping their customers from driving after consuming………

    The real challenge for scientists is figuring out how to reduce the impact of “distracted” drivers, using technology behind the wheel.

  • holger March 13, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Bryan is a very reasoned author. I typically agree with most of his well articulated articles. But this one does not pass the logical fallacy test.

    One still has to show impairment prior to BAC test. After impairment is suspected, we the state set a judgmentally based limit for BAC. So we set it at .05. Stating that this “criminalizes behavior that has harmed no one” is arguing for no level at all. Bryan needs to either sate that he is in favor of no BAC limits, or tell us what he thinks is a better number and why.

  • McMurphy March 13, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    “Lawmakers clearly favor a precrime approach in order to appear “tough on crime” and to justify their existence by creating new layers of law and regulation.” This pretty much says it all. Our legislators believe that since they are legislators they are obligated to legislate. Come election time those who supported this legislation will proudly proclaim their commitment to truth, justice and the American Way. Besides, if you can’t use the police powers of the state to force people to live their lives exactly as you want them to — then where is the fun of being a Utah legislator?

  • utahdiablo March 13, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    So you visit anywhere in Nevada and take in secondhand legal Marijuana smoke and mow your driving back to Utah loaded….an that’s ok? Stupid stupid law….do more to keep these dip $hits off their cell phones while driving….but no, let’s lower the Zion curtain….hell, even California isn’t this stupid

  • dmoss March 13, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    I agree with you Bryan about the law, but once again you let your callousness toward government shadow your thoughts and you either have chosen to ignore (in my opinion you seem to do this to get a rise out of people) or just didn’t read and understand the law. The fact is that the old, and new, law always have allowed for an arrest of impaired driving regardless of what the person’s alcohol level is. This is why I agree with you that changing the law was dumb, I think legislators jump on a band wagon, succumb to lobbying, and pass laws without doing research and don’t understand fully what they are doing (again we agree). But if someone is pulled over for weaving and they show signs of impairment that rise to probable cause they should be arrested and I think most cops do that. If the subsequently test shows a .07 (or .04 with this new law) alcohol content they aren’t let go, they’ve already been arrested for being impaired. They go to court and the court decides if the government has evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was impaired. Yes, if the test comes back over the limit the court must recognize that “per se” rule. The way you wrote your opinion, however, makes it sound like the police are using some new fangled breathalyzer and are randomly pointing at people mouths and getting alcohol content readings as they drive through your “warrantless DUI checkpoints” (that do not exist by the way – another one of your misconstrued notions). Again, a waste of time and energy to pass a useless law, but please present all sides and facts surrounding an issue and let the public decide instead of disparaging the police/government.

    • Bryan Hyde Bryan Hyde March 14, 2017 at 7:16 am

      Dave, I appreciate your weighing in on my column. If you read if carefully, you’ll notice that my objection is not based upon new-fangled technology but the creation of a legal technicality by which a person can be charged with DUI even if their behavior is not impaired. You’re an officer. You know how a simple pretext stop (unlit license plate, failed to signal for 2 seconds, etc.) becomes a fishing expedition. “Have you had anything to drink tonight?” If they answer yes, this gives the officer reasonable suspicion to check their BAC. With the newly lowered limit…Bingo! You’ve caught yourself a “drunk driver.”

      In the meantime, that officer could be out hunting truly impaired drivers whose behavior is objectively affecting others on the road. I have no problem with this approach to fighting DUI. I’m not a fan of the “gotcha” mentality that is taking hold among law enforcement.

      As far as warrantless searches, you’re stretching the limits of credulity when you insinuate that a blanket warrant for everyone driving down a particular stretch of road is the same as an authentic warrant that specifies a particular person or vehicle that is suspected of being involved in a crime. The courts may have upheld this kind of statist nonsense but anyone with common sense can see that this is simply a search without probable cause.

  • .... March 14, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Make it .01 as far as I’m concerned get them all off the road.

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