I am a firm believer in proactive, aggressive DUI enforcement. I have built a career in law enforcement around many proactive areas of enforcement, but locating impaired drivers has always been my forte. In Utah County, where I have spent the majority of my law-enforcement career, I have arrested hundreds of impaired drivers.
I am a believer that legislation to lower Utah's legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers, though well-intended, is poorly thought out. My opinion is based on arresting more impaired drivers than I can even care to remember. In Utah "prima-facie" (obvious) evidence of drunk driving is established when a driver is proved to be operating a motor vehicle at a .08 BAC or higher. The majority of arrests for drunk driving in my experience are made at a BAC of .10 or higher.
I can think of very few instances that I would have arrested someone for DUI if I suspected them of being under the .08 BAC prima facie standard unless they were also under the influence of drugs. Someone under the .08 BAC standard will in almost all cases pass field sobriety tests, however state law allows an officer to effect an arrest for DUI when probable cause exists that the driver of a vehicle was rendered "incapable of safely operating a vehicle" while under the influence of alcohol, any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug.
Even Candace Lightner, the founding mother of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) said that lowering the legal BAC limit to .05 is a "waste of time."
Many officers without significant specialized training in DUI enforcement in my experience can't identify the difference between a driver with a BAC of .08 and .10. It would be even more unreasonable for officers to be expected to differentiate between a .05 and .08 BAC.
Field sobriety tests are scientifically standardized tests and reliably proven methods of determining impairment at a BAC of .08 or greater. If someone can pass the field sobriety testing gambit, then why should officers be expected to arrest that person for DUI just because they have a BAC of .05? It's a rhetorical question. They shouldn't be expected to.
If the National Transportation Board is truly concerned about impaired drivers, they should leave DUI laws as they are, or make it altogether illegal to operate a motor vehicle with any measurable amount of alcohol in the body. Our communities would be better served by more effective and increased identification of the drivers actually impaired by alcohol rather than those who are at a .05 BAC.
-Matt Schauerhamer is certified by the International Association of Chiefs of Police as a Drug Recognition Expert and as an instructor in that area. He trains other officers in the identification of alcohol and drug impaired drivers.
Matt Schauerhamer may be reached at [email protected]