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In Utah, Speed and Unbuckled Seatbelts Account for More Road Deaths Than DUI

This year, Utah legislators lowered the state’s DUI threshold to the nation’s most severe. The measure (HB155), which was sponsored by Republican Representative Norman K. Thurston, lowered Utah’s blood-alcohol limit from .08 to .05 in an attempt to make roads safer. Governor Gary Herbert signed the law in March, and it is scheduled to take effect on December 30, 2018.

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A new report from Utah’s Department of Public Safety (DPS), however, demonstrates that drunk driving only contributed to roughly 13% of Utah’s 281 traffic-related fatalities last year. The highway safety office of the DPS is dedicated to developing, promoting, and coordinating traffic safety initiatives designed to reduce traffic accidents.

The highway safety department of the Utah DPS also recently published data on the “100 Deadly Days of Summer,” which covered traffic deaths in Utah from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day during the years of 2007-2016. The report found that in 2016, these 100 days experienced 0.92 motor vehicle traffic crash deaths per day, compared to 0.71 deaths per day for all other days. After three years of increasing motor vehicle traffic crash death rates per day, 2016 saw a decrease in the death rate per day over the 100 days. Over the last 10 years in Utah, the 100 days experienced 0.90 motor vehicle traffic crash deaths per day, compared to 0.63 deaths per day for all other days. 2007 had the highest death rate per day (1.02), and 2012 had the lowest death rate per day (0.67) for the 100 days over the last 10 years in Utah.

The recent report found that accidents related to unbuckled seat belts and speeding accounted for the majority of the state’s traffic deaths. Distracted driving played less of a role in fatal crashes than it had in previous years, accounting for only about 7.5%.

The report indicates that speed factored into 38% of fatalities. Unbuckled drivers were involved in 29% of the deaths. The report also found that motorcyclists, pedestrians, teenage drivers, and drivers over the age of 65 accounted for more fatalities than drunk drivers. Of the cases that involved drunk driving, 13% involved a driver with a BAC of .08 or above.

Opponents of Thurston’s law have pointed out that most DUIs involve drivers with greater levels of alcohol in their system than .05. Thus, lowering the threshold would only target those who are not impaired after just one or two drinks. The American Beverage Institute points to statistics that show one percent of traffic fatalities involve drivers with a blood alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08.

Bar owners in Utah have launched an online fundraising push, encouraging residents to sign a national petition. The tourism industry also opposes the new law, arguing that it prevents people from throwing events in or traveling to Utah and encourages them to go to Colorado instead. Another major critic is Candace Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and now president of We Save Lives. She called the law “unenforceable” and urged lawmakers to focus on bigger issues like distracted and drugged driving.

On Thursday, Thurston responded that while his DUI legislation is not the sole method to make roads safer, it will likely help. He stated that he has discussed with law enforcement officials how they could make roads safer. Together, they discussed speeding and seatbelts, but they could not devise additional laws to encourage drivers to slow down and buckle their seatbelts. They concluded that drunk driving laws were an area in which they could make significant and immediate impacts.

Utah is one of roughly six states that in recent years has raised the speed limit to 80 mph on some highways. These are the highest levels outside some parts of Texas that permit 85 mph.

Thurston said that making the speed limit lower does not always make roads safer because many drivers continue to drive at high speeds, meaning it’s more dangerous for drivers who follow the posted speed limit and are traveling much more slowly than the general flow of traffic. This can lead drivers who might be following each other too closely to make errors that lead to accidents.

This year, Utah legislators made permanent a 2015 temporary law that permitted officers to pull over a driver if any passenger had an unbuckled seatbelt.

Utah laws permit drivers to talk on cellphones, but it’s illegal to text, change music, or use any app by hand. Governor Gary Herbert, who approved the new blood alcohol threshold, indicated that he is planning to call legislators to a special session later this year in order to make measures to crack down on distracted driving.

If you have been charged with a DUI offense in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation to people in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses and representing drivers with revoked licenses before the Illinois Secretary of State. To learn more, and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us toll-free at 1-800-829-8513.

More Blog Posts:

Illinois Appeals Court Upholds Ruling for DUI Defendant Based on Officer’s Unconvincing Testimony, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blog, June 5, 2017.

Colorado Supreme Court Upholds Express Consent Statute, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blog, June 1, 2017.

Kansas Supreme Court Holds Officer Lacked Reasonable Suspicion to Stop DUI Defendant Based on “Power Braking,” Illinois DUI Lawyer Blog, May 1, 2017.