A new law in Utah recently lowered the state BAC limit from .08 to .05 for drunk driving charges. Utah DUI laws are now some of the toughest laws in the country. All drivers need to take notice of Utah DUI laws and the potential penalties for drunk driving convictions in Utah.
7 Utah DUI Laws Every Utah Driver Should Know About
- The BAC Limit for DUI in Utah is .05
- Utah Has a “Not a Drop” Law for Drivers Under 21 Years of Age
- First and Second DUI Offenses Are Misdemeanors
- Third and Subsequent DUI Offenses are Felonies
- You Can Refuse a Field Sobriety Test
- Utah is an Implied Consent State
- A DUI Accident Resulting in Bodily Harm is a Felony Charge
The BAC Limit for DUI in Utah is .05
What do I need to know about DUI laws in Utah?
BAC or blood alcohol content is the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. President Bill Clinton called for a national BAC legal limit of .08 for drunk driving. The national standard would make it illegal for anyone to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08 or higher, regardless of whether the person appeared to be impaired by alcohol.
In October 2000, the Department of Transportation’s 2001 Appropriations Act made it mandatory that states pass a .08 per se law by 2004 or lose two percent of their highway funding. Each year that a state failed to pass the law, highway funding for the state would decrease by an additional two percent until it reached a total of eight percent. By 2004, all 50 states had enacted DUI laws accepting the .08 legal BAC limit.
What state has the strictest DUI Laws?
Utah was the first and remains the only state to lower the BAC limit from .08 to .05 as of December 30, 2018. However, some states have pending legislation to lower the BAC legal limit for drunk driving charges. Recent research indicates that driving performance for almost all drivers is impaired when the driver’s BAC reaches .05, and the risk of being in a DUI accident significantly increases when a driver’s blood alcohol content is .05 or higher.
Even though Utah DUI laws may be the toughest in the nation when you compare the legal BAC limit in other states to the legal BAC limit in Utah, some states have tougher DUI penalties than DUI laws in Utah. However, that does not mean that Utah drivers should not consider a DUI charge seriously. The penalties for a drunk driving conviction in Utah can include jail time, license suspension, community service, fines, and ignition interlock devices.
Utah Has a “Not a Drop” Law for Drivers Under 21 Years of Age
Is Utah a zero tolerance state?
Underage drinking is a serious problem throughout the United States. Some states, including Utah, have adopted a zero tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21 years. Drivers under 21 are not permitted to operate a vehicle with any alcohol in their system, regardless of the legal BAC limit set by the state for other drivers.
What are the laws surrounding underage drinking and DUI?
If a driver under the age of 21 years is arrested for DUI, that individual is subject to the state’s Not-A-Drop statute. If a person under 21 has any detectable or measurable amount of alcohol in their system while driving can be charged with underage DUI. The penalty for an underage DUI conviction can include license revocation until the age of 21 years. However, a judge could impose a longer suspension period for driving privileges depending on the circumstances.
When a juvenile is convicted of underage DUI, the penalties are severe. For example, a first offense misdemeanor DUI can result in a fine of $700; screening for substance abuse; and, 48 hours in a detention center, house arrest, or work program, in addition to the license suspension. The judge could also add other DUI penalties. It is advisable to consult with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss a DUI defense strategy.
First and Second DUI Offenses are Misdemeanors
Is a first DUI a felony in Utah?
In most cases, first offense and second offense DUI charges are misdemeanors in Utah. However, a first offense DUI charge can be a felony charge under certain aggravating circumstances.
For example, if the charge involves a DUI accident in which another person is seriously injured or dies, the charge becomes a felony DUI charge. If this is the driver’s second DUI offense, but the first offense was a felony DUI conviction, the second offense becomes a felony DUI offense. Also, if the driver has a previous conviction for vehicular homicide, then the first offense DUI becomes a felony charge.
What are the penalties for a first offense DUI?
Even if a first offense DUI is charged as a misdemeanor, the potential penalties can be severe. A conviction for a first offense DUI can result in up to 180 days in jail (mandatory two days in jail or 48 hours community service), a 120-day license suspension, installation of an ignition interlock device (mandatory for one year for a BAC level above .16), and fines of up to $1,310.
If the charge becomes a felony, DUI penalties increase dramatically. For a third-degree felony (the least serious felony), the penalty for a conviction is up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
What are the penalties for a second offense DUI?
The penalties for a second offense DUI are more severe. While the charge may remain a misdemeanor, a drunk driving conviction for a second offense impaired driving charge carries a maximum of 180 days in prison with a mandatory 10-day jail sentence or 30 hours of electronic monitoring with 5 days in jail, license suspension for two years, an ignition interlock device for two years if your last DUI conviction was within 10 years, and a minimum fine of $1,560.
As with a first offense DUI charge, the second offense DUI charge can become a felony if any of the aggravating circumstances apply to the case.
Third and Subsequent DUI Offenses are Felonies
Third and subsequent DUI charges are felonies under Utah DUI laws. The sentences for felony DUI convictions increase dramatically from a misdemeanor DUI conviction. If convicted for a third or subsequent drunk driving charge, the penalties include up to five years in prison with a mandatory sentence of 62.5 days in jail, a fine of at least $2,850, suspended driving privileges for two years, and the installation of an ignition interlock device for two years if the last DUI conviction was within 10 years.
Felony convictions can carry severe penalties. The DUI penalties discussed above are not the only punishments you can face for an arrest under Utah DUI laws. If you are arrested for driving under the influence in Utah, it is strongly recommended that you seek the advice of an experienced Utah DUI attorney or criminal defense attorney in your area.
You Can Refuse a Field Sobriety Test
When a law enforcement officer pulls a person over on suspicion of driving under the influence, the officer must determine whether he has probable cause for a DUI arrest. The officer may request that the driver submit to a field sobriety test. The tests are designed to help the officer determine whether the driver might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) consists of three tests performed by the driver on the roadside. The police officer instructs the driver how to complete each test based on standard instructions and training manuals. The test includes the one-leg-stand test, the walk-and-turn test, and the HGN (horizontal gaze nystagmus) test in which the officer has the driver follow a pen or small object with the driver’s eyes.
Under Utah DUI laws, it is not a crime to refuse to take the field sobriety test. Refusal to take the standardized field sobriety test does not result in a suspension of driving privileges. However, refusing to take a breath test or other chemical test to determine a driver’s BAC limit can result in a suspended driver’s license.
Utah is an Implied Consent State
Even though you can refuse a field sobriety test, Utah DUI laws related to a chemical test for blood alcohol levels are different.
Utah DUI laws include an implied consent clause that requires drivers to consent to a chemical test to determine their BAC level if they are requested to take a test by a police officer. When you apply for and receive a driver’s license in Utah, you agree to the implied consent law.
Under Utah’s implied consent law, you agree to have your urine, breath, saliva, or blood tested for alcohol or drugs. Police officers can conduct a breath test when they arrest a person for an impaired driving charge, but a search warrant is required to take blood without a person’s consent.
You have the right to refuse to submit to chemical testing to determine your blood alcohol content. However, you are subject to penalties under Utah DUI laws for a refusal to take a chemical test to determine your BAC level. Upon refusal to submit to a chemical test, your driver’s license is suspended immediately. You are given a temporary permit to allow you a short time to request a court hearing to dispute the driving suspension.
The penalty for a first refusal under the implied consent law is an 18-month suspension period for driving privileges, unless you can prove the officer did not have probable cause for the DUI arrest. Subsequent refusals within 10 years can result in a three-year suspension of driving privileges.
If a person is cited for refusal to submit to a breathalyzer or other chemical test after a DUI stop, it is important to demand a hearing immediately and contact a DUI attorney for advice and guidance.
A DUI Accident Resulting in Bodily Harm is a Felony Charge
A DUI accident can result in severe bodily harm to another person. In some cases, the injuries can be life-threatening. For that reason, Utah DUI laws treat charges for drunk driving as felonies when the drunk driving results in an injury or death to another person.
The injured person can be a passenger in the car with the person charged with driving under the influence, a pedestrian, passenger in another vehicle, bicyclist, or any other person involved in the DUI accident. Because charges related to DUI accidents are felonies, the penalties can be severe.
How Does Alcohol Impact Driving Ability?
Drinking and driving is dangerous for everyone on the road. Alcohol impairs a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. According to the NHTSA, alcohol is a factor in almost 40 percent of fatal traffic accidents each year.
Even just a small amount of alcohol in a person’s system can have negative effects on a person’s ability to drive safely. For example, at a BAC of .02, a person experiences some loss of judgment and begins to relax and have an altered mood, which can result in a decrease in visual functions and the ability to perform two tasks simultaneously.
With a BAC of .05, a person can experience loss of small muscle control, impaired judgment, and lowered alertness, which can result in reduced coordination, difficulty steering, and slower response times to emergency driving situations. By the time a person’s BAC reaches .08, concentration, speed control, short term memory, perception, and information processing are all impaired.
How can I avoid driving while intoxicated?
Drunk driving is preventable. Drinking responsibly is the key to preventing drunk driving. Ways to prevent drunk driving include:
- If you intend to drink, arrange for a safe ride home. Plan to ride with a friend who is not drinking or use public transportation.
- When hosting a party where alcohol is served, avoid drinking yourself so that you can monitor guests for any signs of intoxication. Stop serving alcohol a couple of hours before the end of the party.
- Do not let others drive while intoxicated. Take them home or find a safe way for them to get home.
What If I’m In an Accident with a Drunk Driver?
If you are involved in a DUI accident, do not panic. Call 911 to report a car accident or motorcycle accident in Utah and request emergency medical services and law enforcement officers. If you suspect that the other driver may be intoxicated, report your suspicions to the emergency operator. Be as specific as possible when describing why you suspect the other driver is impaired, such as you observed the vehicle weaving back and forth between lanes.
Never confront a drunk driver. When a law enforcement officer arrives, tell the officer your suspicions and allow the officer to handle the matter. It is up to the officer to determine if he has probable cause to make a DUI arrest.
If you do not go directly to the emergency room from the accident scene, it is wise to see a doctor as soon as possible. Delays in medical treatment can hurt an injury claim. The insurance company for the other driver may use the delay in medical care to allege your injuries are not a result of the car accident.
Will car insurance policies cover damages caused by a DUI accident?
Drivers in Utah are required to purchase minimum amounts of insurance to protect themselves and others in the event of a car accident in Utah. Each car insurance policy must include a minimum of:
- $3,000 PIP (personal injury protection) coverage
- $25,000 liability insurance for bodily injury to one person ($65,000 per accident)
- $15,000 property damage coverage
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage are also included in insurance policies, but these coverages may be rejected in writing by the driver.
PIP is a form of no-fault car insurance in Utah. If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident, your PIP insurance pays medical bills and some other expenses incurred because of the accident regardless of who caused the accident. Therefore, if a drunken driver injures you, your first claim is against your PIP insurance coverage.
Under some circumstances, you can file a claim against the drunk driver’s liability insurance coverage. If your medical bills are more than $3,000, you sustained a permanent impairment or disability, or you were disfigured, you can file a personal injury claim against the other driver. However, you must prove that the driver caused the crash before the driver’s insurance company is liable for damages under the insurance policy.
Are criminal charges required in a DUI accident claim?
In many cases, a driver who causes a DUI accident is charged with one or more criminal charges related to driving under the influence. The driver may be convicted of drunken driving in criminal court. However, a criminal court case is separate from any civil action that DUI accident victims might have because of the crash.
A personal injury claim is a civil claim. It is not dependent upon the outcome of the criminal case. A drunk driver could avoid criminal penalties but still be held liable in civil court for losses and damages arising from the DUI accident.
However, you must prove that the drunk driver caused the motor vehicle accident to recover compensation for an insurance claim. A criminal conviction is not the same as proving that a driver caused an accident. A driver who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs could be involved in a car crash that is not the impaired driver’s fault.
Therefore, a DUI accident should be investigated in the same way as other traffic accidents. Evidence is required to prove the drunk driver played a role in causing the collision, such as failing to yield the right of way, following too closely, or crossing the centerline.
Evidence in a DUI accident case may include:
- Police report or accident report
- Photographs and videos of the accident scene
- Videos from traffic cameras and surrounding surveillance cameras
- Eyewitness statements
- Physical evidence gathered from the vehicles
- Testimony from expert witnesses
Once liability for the crash is established, an accident victim is entitled to recover compensation for injuries, losses, and damages if the victim meets the no-fault insurance threshold for filing a claim against the other driver.
What damages can I recover from a drunk driving accident?
If your injuries or medical expenses meet the no-fault insurance threshold for a personal injury claim, you can recover a variety of damages from the drunk driver who caused your accident. In a typical DUI accident, a victim may recover compensation for damages including, but not limited to:
- Medical expenses, including hospitalizations, surgeries, medications, physical therapy, medical equipment, and doctor’s bills
- Loss of income, including loss of benefits, salaries, bonuses, wages, and commissions
- Future loss of earning capacity in the case of permanent impairment or disability
- Ongoing medical expenses and personal care in the case of permanent disability or impairment
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress and mental anguish
- Permanent disability, impairment, scarring, and disfigurement
The value of a DUI accident claim depends on numerous factors, such as the type of injury, the severity of the injury, and the total financial losses. Documenting expenses, losses, and damages is important. Victims should keep detailed records and copies of all documentation proving losses and expenses related to the accident, injuries, and recovery.
Contact a Utah Personal Injury Attorney for a Free Case Evaluation
Drunk driving accidents can cause traumatic injuries which result in physical, emotional, and financial damages for the victims and their families. If a drunken driver in Utah injures you, you need a Utah personal injury lawyer to help you fight for the compensation you deserve.
DUI accident claims can be complicated. The evidence may include evidence from the criminal case, in addition to evidence from a civil case. Having sound legal representation can help ensure that all aspects of the personal injury case are handled correctly.
If you have been injured in a DUI accident, contact the Acadia Law Group for a free consultation with a car accident attorney in Utah. Call our office at 1-800-653-4600 or begin your free case evaluation online.