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Each state has their own traffic laws and has their own driving under the influence laws. Some are stricter than others. That said, until this year, all states have set the blood-alcohol (BAC) level of 0.08 as the per se standard of driving under the influence. DUI law in every state is much more complicated than simply having a BAC limit (see recent article California DUI Law 101, for a recap on DUI law in California), although it is an important number to remember. One state, however, has made the leap to lower the allowed BAC level, making it the strictest in the country. If you are knowledgeable about the history of anti-drunk driving laws in the U.S., you may not be surprised to hear that that state is Utah, which has in the past been a trailblazer for stricter DUI laws in the country.
Utah was the first state to lower the BAC limit from 0.1 to 0.08 back in 1983, and now in 2019, it will be the first state to lower the BAC limit from 0.08 to 0.05. Utah has put this new limit to effect on December 30, right before the New Year festivities. Although the BAC level will change, the punishments for being convicted of a DUI will not. In Utah, that includes suspended licenses and fines over $1,000. Those in favor of the new limit feel that this new lower BAC level will help to deter drivers from drinking before getting behind the wheel. However, this lower limit also means that law enforcement will be casting a wider net and many more people could have their licenses suspended with thousands of dollars in fines, and possibly other penalties. Unlike California, Utah does not have a policy for restricted licenses, which means that in areas with few public transit options, even first-time offenders will have a difficult time adjusting to the penalties of a first-time DUI in Utah.
Although the idea that a lower BAC limit will help to deter those who have had a few alcoholic drinks from getting behind the wheel is well-intentioned, and though there are many state lawmakers who hope that other states will soon follow in Utah’s footsteps, there are still many details that should be addressed in order to ensure that a lower BAC limit law does not unfairly overreach to people who might be sober.
Utah is not the only state to be making changes. Pennsylvania passed legislation in October that took effect on December 23, that created the state’s first felony DUI. Until now, Pennsylvania was one of four states in the U.S. that did not consider elevating a DUI to a felony after multiple DUI convictions. Now with the new law in effect, a third time offender of driving under the influence with a BAC level of 0.16 (twice the legal limit in Pennsylvania) can be charged with a felony. The new law will also consider a fourth DUI offense or higher, with any BAC level or intoxicating substance presence, as a felony.
The new Pennsylvania law also increased the penalties for homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, increased jail time for DUI’s where there was a prior DUI, and increased the fines and fees for a DUI. In addition, the penalty amount for driving under suspension has been increased. What was previously a minimum $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail for a second offense is now a mandatory minimum of 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000, with a third offense to resulting with six months in jail and a mandatory $2,500 fine.
Considering that a majority of the states have already put in place the felony categorization for a DUI following multiple offenses, Pennsylvania is late in the game. However, Pennsylvania had been seeing an annual number of approximately 10,000 alcohol-related crashes and around 300 fatalities. With one source citing about 250,000 repeat DUI offenders in the state, it is no wonder Pennsylvania turned to the trend of stricter DUI laws.
Hopefully enforcement of these new laws will help to promote a safer driving environment for all, but not at the cost of arresting sober people on suspicion of a DUI.
Ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft have introduced to the public a cheap and “right at your fingertips” method for calling a ride home after a night of drinking. These apps have given the public the comfort of being able to arrive at a destination without worrying about finding parking, or as is often the case at night, worrying about drinking and driving.
Back in June of 2016, BuzzFeed News posted an article entitled “Here’s What Happens When Your UBER Driver Gets A DUI.” The article focused on an interview with a passenger who suspected her Uber driver of driving under the influence, the subsequent customer service the passenger received, and the steps that the company took in handling the situation with the driver. BuzzFeed also reported that this was not the first incident where an Uber driver was arrested for driving under the influence. The driver associated with this particular drive was deactivated fairly quickly. However, that was not the case for all of Uber’s drivers who received complaints of drunk driving.
According to the Uber homepage, they have a zero-tolerance policy with regard to driving under the influence. Specifically, it states, “Uber does not tolerate the use of alcohol or drugs by drivers using the Uber app.” Yet, the Los Angeles Times recently released an article that highlighted an investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that resulted in Uber being fined a total of $750,000 for failing to follow its own “zero tolerance policy.
The zero-tolerance policy is a requirement that was included by the CPUC within the regulations for smartphone-enabled ride share companies. The regulations, approved in 2013, were placed in an attempt to placate the angry licensed taxi companies and their drivers whose service was disrupted by the spread of these private drivers through the smartphone and online applications. The regulations called for the ride-sharing companies to institute a zero-tolerance intoxicating substance policy for all of its drivers and to suspend the driver to allow for an investigation as soon as a zero-tolerance complaint is filed.
Uber’s violation of the policy was discovered in an investigation of the customer complaints associated with driving under the influence from August 2014 to August 2015. An administrative law judge had recommended a fine of $7,500 per violation, which, with the number of violations found in the investigation, would have resulted in a total of $1,132,500.
However, a settlement was made between the CPUC and Raiser-CA, an Uber owned company, and the final amount of $750,000 was reached Thursday, November 8th. According to the Los Angeles Times, “In addition to the fine, Uber agreed to implement an education program on zero-tolerance regulations and file a motion to expand existing regulations and develop stronger standards for the ride-hailing industry.”
AB 2687, a bill that passed in 2016 and has been in effect since July 1, 2018, lowers the blood alcohol level of drivers with passengers for hire in their vehicles to 0.04 percent or more to be considered under the influence. How this new bill affects how Uber handles their education program and renews their standards will be an interesting development.
Hopefully, Uber will be able to remedy the issue in a timely manner. One of the main reasons that many people utilize ride sharing services like Uber is to prevent drunk driving. If hired drivers continue to create an issue of driving under the influence, we are essentially replacing one drunk driver with another, resulting in a public safety issue that we had wanted to avoid in the first place.