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Utah to have strictest drunk driving laws in the nation by the end of the month

Sergeant Steve Salas and State Trooper Jared Withers talk during a demonstration at the Utah Highway Patrol office in Murray, Monday, June 12, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — In just a couple of weeks, the nation’s strictest drunk driving laws will be taking effect here in Utah, and law enforcement wants to make sure that people understand what a .05 limit would mean for them.

“Impairment can begin at different levels for different people, depending on their body composition, how much they’re used to drinking. We do know though, that impairment starts at the first drink,” Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Colonel Mark Zesiger says.

Troopers say the new limit won’t mean they’ll pull over just anyone.

“Our biggest thing is that we really don’t want to change the way we do business, we want to ensure that we are arresting those that are impaired for DUI, and not really focus on the number of .05, but on the impairment,” Utah Highway Patrol Capt. Steve Winward told a legislative panel in July at the state Capitol.

Utah has also gained some international attention with its changes to keep Utah’s roads safe.

In December of last year, the Utah Department of Transportation, Department of Public Safety,  as well as the state’s Legislature and the governor’s office, were honored in a ceremony in London where they received The Prince Michael International Road Safety Award.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who authored the bill, set to be implemented on the 30th, traveled to England to accept the award.

“I think it highlights something that we have known all along. It doesn’t make Utah kind of weird in the eyes of people who know what’s going on,” Thurston told at the time.

The bill wasn’t without its detractors though.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, told reporters he’d had two mimosas, then tested his blood alcohol to show what a blood alcohol level of .05 would look like, before presenting a bill back in February to postpone the implementation, contending there was “zero” evidence that the lower level would save lives, and that the new law would drive away tourists and new business.

“My entire presentation has been at .05,” he told the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Standing Committee. “You might say, ‘Well, that’s evidence of why we want the law. Look at him.’ I’m at .05, and I feel perfectly fine.”

“This is morality in search of legislation. It’s just dead wrong,” he said.