Utah Celebrates the New Year as Reduced BAC Limit Officially Goes into Effect

Just in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve, Utah’s reduced BAC limit officially went into effect Sunday, but surprisingly did not result in an uptick of DUI arrests.

Drinking holiday

Photo by: BluEyedA73

New Year’s Eve is known for being a holiday that many spend intoxicated, whether through pounding beers with friends or sipping champagne at a party as the countdown to the New Year befalls. This holiday is so widely centered on alcohol that organizations such as AAA was offering those who were inebriated a free ride home for them and their vehicle in order to help reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road after midnight. Utah had its own way of getting ready for the holiday however, as the new reduced BAC limit went into effect a day prior to the festivities.

Utah’s reduced BAC limit

Utah’s new reduced BAC limit, or the legal limit of blood-alcohol content for drivers in Utah was set into motion in early 2017, amid protests from residents and businesses. Regardless of the backlash from the community, Utah lawmakers passed the new BAC limit with it going into effect December 30, 2018. Utah Code 41-6a-502 now states “A person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state if the person:

(a) Has sufficient alcohol in the person’s body that a subsequent chemical test shows that the person has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .05 grams or greater at the time of the test;

(b) Is under the influence of alcohol, any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle; or

(c) Has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .05 grams or greater at the time of operation or actual physical control.”

Prior to the legal change of the allowable blood-alcohol content, Utah’s limits matched those around the county set at .08 grams. Now Utah has one of the lowest tolerances for alcohol use before driving than any other in the country.

When is “one too many”?

Photo by: Jeffrey Smith

While everyone can agree that drunk driving is a dangerous activity that kills hundreds of people each year, many Utah residents still scoff at the reduced BAC limit. Many of those who are upset at the new law are those who would like to legally enjoy a couple drinks with dinner or after work without worrying about finding a designated driver. One problem with the occasional social drink however, is the drastic difference in how it could affect each individual person and whether it could lead to “one too many” drinks before hitting the road. One shot of whiskey or a single glass of wine may have been okay for some without their BAC rising about .08. Others though become incapable of merely walking a straight line to their car, their BAC increased to a limit too dangerous to drive. Factors such as gender, weight, and stomach contents come into play which can dramatically change who gets buzzed and who doesn’t.

Taking no chances

In its own obnoxious way, Utah’s reduced BAC limit may be beneficial as it makes everyone a little more cautious before hitting the roads. Instead of Utah residents wondering if that glass of champagne went straight to their head or not, anyone who drinks can just assume they may come up over the new reduced BAC limit and plan accordingly. After mere hours after being put into effect, this way of further separating drinking from driving might already be working. Only 11 DUI related arrests were reported by UHP during New Year’s Eve this year compared to nearly 50 last year. Perhaps this increased intolerance can help further lower the number of Utahans killed each year by those who should not have been behind the wheel. For those who feel they have been treated unfairly according to this new law, contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss options moving forward.

Increased Alcoholism among Baby Boomers

Baby boomers are all nearing the age of retirement if they haven’t already and studies have shown this generation may have an increased chance of alcoholism, especially among women.

Increased age, increase alcohol use

Photo by: Katina Rogers

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism stated in a 2008 study ”about 40 percent of adults ages 65 and older drink alcohol.” Multiple studies conducted since that study in both in the U.S. and the UK have shown a dramatic increase of drinking among older adults than in previous years. Additionally, the amount of alcohol consumed by older adults is also increasing; in many case adults over 65 are drinking more than double the recommended weekly limit.

Older women at higher risk

While there have always been a higher amount of men who drink heavily compared to women, the rate of binge drinking among older women is increasing more rapidly than that of older males. Some theorize women over 65 may be increasing their heavy drinking due to it being more socially acceptable, to handle pain that comes with age, or even to fill the time of a life that may be slowing down with other activities.

Health risks

Photo by: Jeffrey Fairchild

Older women who drink heavily are at an increased risk of severe health problems related to alcohol abuse. According to the NIH, Those who are heavy drinkers could increase health problems such as “diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, liver problems, osteoporosis, memory problems, and mood disorders.” They also note that “women typically start to have alcohol-related problems at lower drinking levels than men”. Additionally, many medications that those 65 and older take regularly can have dangerous reactions when mixed with alcohol.

Legal ramifications

Beyond the wide range of health risks, both men and women over the age of 65 should be aware of the legal risks that can be associated with binge drinking.

• As reaction time and memory recall decreases with age, alcohol can magnify this effect. The combination of age and alcohol could increase the chance of individuals putting others in harm whether through trying to operate a vehicle or other heavy machinery or by increasing the chance of accidental home fires that could result in injury or death. The NIH stated “Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. This puts older adults at higher risks for falls, car crashes, and other unintentional injuries that may result from drinking.

• Alcohol has been shown to be a factor in many aggravated criminal cases such as homicides, assaults, and sexual crimes. Alcohol does not discriminate in regards to age. Those who have a tendency to show increased agitation when they are drunk at 40 may also face the same reaction when they are over 65. Age is never an excuse for violent behavior.

• In a little over a year, Utah will be decreasing the BAC limit for drivers. Most drivers, especially women who typically weigh less than men, will not be able to drive legally after even one drink. All drivers should consider planning ahead for a designated driver whenever alcohol is to be consumed.

Set limits

The NIH recommends those who are over 65, healthy, and not on medication (or planning on driving) should limit their amounts of alcohol to no more than “3 drinks on a given day” and “7 drinks in a week”. Although alcohol is legal for all adults over the age of 21, it may be wise to recognize problems of binge drinking and take precautions to curb excess drinking before health or legal consequences ensue. For any adult regardless of age that is facing criminal charges stemming from an alcohol related offense, it is best to consult immediately with a criminal defense attorney.

Strict DUI Laws Not Needed in Arrest of Intoxicated Officer

An officer with the Utah Department of Public Safety was arrested for driving intoxicated and Utah’s strict DUI laws were not needed in this case.

Concerned fellow drivers

Photo by: Ken Lund

Photo by: Ken Lund

A Utah High Patrol trooper pulled over a vehicle north of Panguitch Utah after numerous calls from concerned drivers all reported the vehicle driving erratically. The driver of the car was 35 year old Jason James Whitehead, an armed public safety officer who was more than halfway through his journey from Ogden Utah to Lake Powell for training. Local county officers called to assist noted a bottle of Vodka on the front passenger seat that was halfway empty.

Failed field sobriety tests

Whitehead was arrested for DUI, open container, and carrying a weapon while intoxicated.  Whitehead not only failed his field sobriety tests prior to his arrest, he was barely able to carry on a conversation or walk around on his own. Police reports do not indicate whether a breathalyzer was used to check if Whitehead was legally considered driving intoxicated. From the sound of the situation however, Whitehead was far from being a possible victim of Utah’s new strict DUI laws .

Strict DUI laws of Utah

Strict DUI Laws

(Edited) Photo by: Mark Goebel

The State of Utah has been receiving considerable backlash lately for its strict DUI laws that many deem unfair compared to the rest of the nation. This public outcry comes on the heels of a bill passed to lower the BAC limit in Utah to.05% which is .03% less than everywhere else in the nation who stand at .08%. This lowered BAC limit is set to become law in Utah at the end of 2018. Numerous residents of Utah are opposed to Utah’s strict DUI laws, accusing lawmakers of making money off the social (non-religious) drinker and preying on those visiting from other states who are oblivious to the strict DUI laws. Business owners in Utah such as restaurants and bars are also lamenting the lowered BAC limit as they are likely to be hit financially with the lack of revenue from lowered alcohol sales.

Go for the big fish

While the general public is grateful when a dangerously intoxicated driver such as Officer Whitehead is removed from the road, few residents want or expect every individual who enjoyed a drink with lunch to end up facing criminal charges. This does not strike the majority of people as an appropriate way to spend taxpayer dollars or how an officer should “discharge the duties of [their] office with fidelity”. For more information on Utah’s strict DUI laws or for legal counsel regarding criminal charges, contact a criminal defense attorney.