Utah Law: Impaired Driving vs. DUI

The State of Utah takes the crime of driving under the influence of alcohol very seriously. This fact can be demonstrated by taking a simple look at the State’s legislative record on the issue of DUI:

In 1983, Utah was the first state in the country to pass a law lowering the legally permitted limit of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for someone operating a motor vehicle from .10% to .08%. That move made Utah the state with the strictest drunk driving laws in the nation. Today, a BAC of .08% is the legal limit in every state.

Recently, Utah’s state legislature took steps to, once again, make Utah’s drunk driving laws the toughest in the nation. Both the Utah State Senate and the House of Representatives have passed a bill that will lower the legal BAC limit from .08% to .05%. Utah’s Governor, Gary Herbert, has signed the bill and it will take effect on December 30, 2018.

Under Utah’s proposed new law, a 160-pound man could be charged with driving under the influence after two to three drinks. This means that Utah could see a spike in DUI charges and convictions in the coming years. Given this, it makes sense for every driver in the state to have a good grasp of Utah’s DUI laws and the potential penalties involved in a DUI conviction.

Utah DUI Laws

To begin with, Utah has two separate types of DUI.

First, it is illegal to operate or be in physical control of a motor vehicle with a blood or breath alcohol concentration that exceeds .08% and soon .05%. If you are driving a commercial vehicle that level is lowered to .04% and, under Utah’s Zero Tolerance Law, that level is .0% for drivers under the age of 21.

Second, it is illegal to operate or be in physical control of a motor vehicle with any measurable controlled substance or an active or inactive metabolite of a controlled substance in your body.

This means that in Utah, you can be charged with DUI, or Not a Drop, if:

  1. Testing shows a BAC above the legal limit (.08%, soon to be .05, .04% for a commercial license and above .0%, respectively);
  2. You were observed driving erratically or showed other signs of obvious intoxication regardless of results from a chemical test or even if no chemical test is taken; or
  3. You are operating a motor vehicle after using any illegal or prescription drug and the drug or its metabolite remains in your system. If no impairment is shown and the drug or metabolite was ingested legally, that is a defense to this statute or charge.

If this is your first DUI offense in the past 10 years then you’ll be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. If you’re convicted, you’ll face the following fines and penalties:

  • Court Imposed Fines – A first time Class B DUI conviction carries a minimum fine and fee of $1,420.00. If the circumstances warrant, the judge has the discretion to raise the fines and fees to $1,950.00. A first time Class A DUI conviction carries a fine and fee of $4,625.00.
  • Incarceration – There is a mandatory minimum sentence of two days in jail or community service for a first time Class B DUI conviction. If the circumstances warrant, this sentence can be increased up to 180 days. In general, a judge will order a defendant to perform two days of community service in lieu of jail time. A first time Class A DUI conviction is punishable by up to 365 days in jail.
  • Alcohol/Drug Abuse Screening and Assessment/DUI School – A judge must order a first time offender to attend a mandatory alcohol/DUI education class.
  • Ignition Interlock Device – If your BAC (blood alcohol level) was .16% or greater, the judge, or Driver License Division, will order you to have an ignition interlock device installed on your car. You will be required to keep this device installed for a period of 18 months. If you are under 21 years of age, the interlock device will need to be installed on any car you drive for a period of three years from the date of conviction, no matter your BAC. You will pay all fees related to the device, including rental of the device, and installation of the device on any car you drive.
  • Driver’s License Suspension – If you are over 21 years of age, a first time DUI conviction comes with a mandatory 120-day suspension of your driver’s license. If you are younger than 21, the suspension time is increased to one year, or even longer.
  • Probation – A first time DUI conviction also comes with up to an 18-month period of probation. This means that the court will keep your case open for up to 18 months following the date of conviction. During this time, the clerk of the court will verify that you have followed all the conditions of probation, including paying your fine, performing community service, and attending alcohol/drug education classes.

Utah Impaired Driving Laws

If this is indeed your first DUI charge, there is a good chance that you may be offered an opportunity to plead guilty to the reduced charge of Impaired Driving. A conviction for Impaired Driving carries some of the same penalties as a DUI conviction. For example, both are still Class B misdemeanors and both carry screening and treatment requirements. However, several important differences may represent a significant advantage to you:

  • Impaired Driving requires no mandatory jail time or community service requirements. Nor does it require a minimum fine of $1,420.00.
  • An ignition interlock device is not required by the judge under an Impaired Driving conviction. However, it should be noted that the installation of an interlock device is left up to the discretion of the Driver License Division handling your case. You could plead guilty to Impaired Driving and still end up having to have the device installed on your car.
  • The period of time that your driver’s license will be suspended will be cut in half, from 120 days to 60 days, under an Impaired Driving Conviction. In addition, there may be no suspension involved whatsoever if your license was not originally suspended by the Driver License Division.

Impaired Driving in Utah is essentially a reduced form of a full DUI conviction. You do not have a right to plead to a charge of Impaired Driving. That option is left to the discretion of the prosecutor and the court. However, under specific circumstances, it makes sense to accept the plea offer if it is extended in your case. Talk to an experienced Utah DUI attorney to see if an Impaired Driving plea is possible in your case and if so, whether you should accept it if it is offered.