Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
FILE - Rep. Steve Eliason talks at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016.

SALT LAKE CITY — A legislative committee voted Friday in favor of a bill that would increase the penalties for driving under the influence if the individual was also driving in the wrong direction on a freeway or controlled-access highway.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said the bill is designed to help combat a rising problem with drunken drivers driving on the wrong side of the freeway.

Under Utah law, a DUI is currently a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. HB83 would raise the classification of DUIs committed while driving on the wrong side of a freeway or controlled-access highway to a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Col. Mike Rapich, superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol, was present to lend his support to the bill. He said intoxicated wrong-way drivers are very difficult to stop. Often troopers have to use force by hitting the driver's vehicle with a police cruiser, which often threatens the lives of officers, he said.

Increasing the penalty of a DUI while wrong-way driving to a class A misdemeanor makes it "a little bit stronger fence,” he said. "If it doesn’t prevent someone from doing it, at least it will make sure they never do it again.”

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Eliason said the problem of wrong-way driving on freeways is bad. He has been in contact with Utah Department of Transportation officials about the benefits of having bright flashing wrong-way signs erected on freeway off-ramps. In Phoenix, he said such signs have resulted in a 40 percent drop in wrong-way driving.

Such a provision, however, is not a part of Eliason's bill, who said UDOT is considering something similar.

The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee passed the bill with a favorable recommendation. It now goes to the full House for consideration.