SALT LAKE CITY — Drug-related fatal car crashes were up again in Utah last year, while alcohol-related fatalities declined slightly, a new state report shows.
In all, 108 Utahns died in incidents where someone chose to drink or use drugs before getting behind the wheel in 2016, according to the “15th Annual DUI Report to the Utah Legislature.” The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice compiles the report.
Deadly collisions in which a driver tested positive for illicit, prescribed or over-the-counter drugs rose from 67 in 2015 to 72 last year, a 7 percent increase. It's the highest number of drug-related fatalities in the past decade and accounts for more than a quarter of all fatal crashes in the state.
The most common drugs of choice were marijuana, methamphetamine, depressants and narcotics, said Mary Lou Emerson, director of the Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council.
But that doesn't mean the drivers were impaired at the time of the wreck because the drugs can remain in their system long after the crash, she said.
Fatalities resulting from crashes involving a driver with a blood alcohol content at or above the .08 percent legal limit dropped from 37 to 36. About 13 percent of all fatal accidents involve alcohol, according to the report.
Utah lawmakers earlier this year passed a bill dropping the legal blood alcohol content for driving to .05 percent, the lowest in the nation. The law is scheduled to take effect Dec. 30, 2018.
The American Beverage Institute and the local hospitality industry are trying to overturn the law. But other than some slight changes, the Utah Legislature appears likely to keep the lower limit in place when it convenes in January.
The DUI report also found:
• Drug-related crashes rose from 701 in 2015 to 792 last year, a 13 percent increase.
• 81 percent of drivers arrested for DUI had a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher.
• 12 percent of those arrested were under the legal drinking age of 21, with 14 being the youngest.
• The average blood alcohol content for those arrested was .15 percent, with the highest being .42 percent.
• There were 10,762 DUI arrests in 2016 in Utah, seven more than the year before.