Utah has some of the strictest DUI laws in the United States. Recently, the state lowered its legal blood alcohol limit down to 0.05 from 0.08 in an effort to further restrain reckless driving due to chemical intoxication.
The lower BAC limit has resulted in a noticeable impact on alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the state. The NHTSA’s early 2022 estimates found that Utah had one of the lowest alcohol-impaired fatality rates per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, at 0.96 fatalities. Contrast that with the neighboring states of Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, which had higher fatality rates at 1.76, 1.42, and 1.77, respectively.
The Beehive State’s crackdown on intoxicated driving does not end there. It also has laws allowing victims of DUIs to seek legal compensation from establishments selling alcohol, provided it can be proven that they acted negligently.
Anyone arrested for DUI in Utah will most likely be charged with a misdemeanor and suffer relatively light penalties like fines and probation. Repeat offenders and those accused of DUI involving third-party injuries may face heavier penalties, including mandatory jail time and rehabilitation.
If you’re a victim of DUI, this article provides information regarding compensation that you may be entitled to and some organizations and programs found throughout Utah that can aid in your recovery process.
Primary DUI Statutes in Utah
Besides setting a strict BAC limit, Utah has specific DUI laws that define the offense of driving under the influence. These include actions taken by drivers while intoxicated, vehicles that are subject to DUI laws, and substances that may lead to a DUI arrest.
The following sections will describe these primary DUI statutes that those driving in or passing through Utah should know and what exceptions to these laws are provided for in Utah legislation.
Actual Physical Control of a Vehicle in Utah
Under Utah law, you don’t need to be actually driving your car to be convicted of DUI. What the law requires is that you’re in actual physical control of the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
State laws do not provide a clear-cut definition of the term “actual physical control of the vehicle.” Instead, courts analyze the totality of the circumstances to determine if someone had actual physical control of the vehicle.
Furthermore, the law provides the following scenarios where a person may not be considered in actual physical control of the vehicle:
The person is asleep inside the vehicle.
The person is not in the driver's seat of the vehicle.
The engine of the vehicle is not running.
The vehicle is lawfully parked.
The person did not drive the vehicle to the location while under the influence of alcohol, a drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug.
Utah DUIs Not Restricted to Cars
DUI laws in Utah apply not only to cars but also to other motor vehicles, such as trucks, truck tractors, buses, and motorcycles. Even farm tractors fall under the legal definition of a motor vehicle.
In addition to motor vehicles, Utah DUI statutes include “vehicle and off-highway vehicle.” This means that you can get a DUI while riding bicycles, all-terrain vehicles with three or more wheels, and snowmobiles. Furthermore, you can be arrested for DUI if found operating or in actual control of a motorboat, as defined by the State Boating Act.
While golf cars and motor-assisted scooters are not subject to standard DUI laws, drinking alcoholic beverages while riding or operating them is prohibited in Utah.
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs in Utah
DUIs in Utah are not limited to operating a vehicle while having a blood alcohol content above the legal limit; you can also be charged with DUI if you drive while under the influence of drugs.
Specifically, it is illegal to operate a vehicle or be in actual physical control of one if you are under the influence of any drug to the point of rendering you incapable of safely operating your vehicle.
For controlled substances, it is enough that you have a measurable amount in your body to be convicted of a DUI. For some controlled substances, such as marijuana or marijuana metabolites, you may be convicted of DUI up to a month after ingestion because of how the substances linger in the body after consumption.
The law does provide for defenses you can use when you are found operating a vehicle while under the influence of controlled substances. These include involuntary ingestion, prescription by a practitioner, and legal consumption of the controlled substance.
Secondary DUI Statutes in Utah
Utah DUI legislation also contains statutes that do not necessarily apply to the general public. The Utah Traffic Code, for example, prohibits certain drivers from operating a vehicle with any amount of alcohol or drug in their bodies, regardless of whether the substances are below the normal legal limit.
Additionally, like most states, Utah has laws prohibiting the consumption of alcohol not only in moving vehicles but also in parked vehicles. The prohibition also extends to passengers who allow other occupants of the car to keep open alcohol containers in the vehicle.
Finally, Utah follows most other states in allowing for chemical tests to determine someone’s blood alcohol concentration during DUI stops and even subscribes to the “implied consent” doctrine that some other states follow.
Utah’s “Not-A-Drop” Law
Under the Utah Traffic Code, there are specific kinds of drivers who can be convicted of DUI regardless of whether their blood alcohol level is under the legal limit. The only evidence required is that they have a detectable amount of alcohol in their system.
People convicted of traffic violations in the past, with the timeframe of being identified as an alcohol-restricted driver depending on the offense.
Repeat DUI offenders.
People who have had their driving privileges or licenses suspended or revoked.
People under the age of 21 operating a vehicle.
Alcohol-restricted drivers can face a class B misdemeanor if they are caught operating or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle or vehicle while they have a detectable amount of alcohol in their system. The court may even order an ignition interlock system installed in their vehicles as a condition of probation.
Utah’s Not-So-Open Carry Laws
In Utah, it is illegal to drink alcohol in a vehicle, even if it is stopped or parked. The law also prohibits anyone from opening a container of alcohol in the passenger compartment while the vehicle is on a highway. The passenger compartment in this case refers to the passenger seat and any portions of the vehicle readily accessible to the driver or passengers, like glove compartments or front seat cup holders.
Note that the restriction applies only to open containers; transporting containers of alcohol is allowed as long as they are closed, sealed, and clearly not consumed. The rule also applies to motor boats while traveling through state waters.
The only exceptions the law provides are for passengers in a motorhome or camper, people who brought alcohol into a chartered bus or limousine, or passengers on a motor boat.
Chemical Tests in Utah
Utah follows the doctrine of implied consent for chemical tests when dealing with possible DUIs. This means that, while you are in Utah, you are assumed to have given your consent to breath, blood, and urine tests to determine if you are above the legal alcohol limit or are under the influence of drugs while operating or in actual physical control of a vehicle.
According to state laws, this consent is not withdrawn even if you are incapable of refusing the tests to be administered, such as if you are unconscious. In this case, qualified officers still have the right to administer these tests, regardless of whether you are under arrest.
What Are the Penalties for a DUI in Utah?
A DUI in Utah has varying penalties depending on whether it is classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. Either way, you might be facing jail, probation, or fines if you are convicted of a DUI. Other penalties may also be levied against you depending on the circumstances, such as the installation of an ignition interlock device, enrollment in a 24/7 alcohol sobriety program, or supervised probation.
DUI as a Misdemeanor
A DUI is a misdemeanor if it is your first conviction or if it is your second conviction within the past 10 years of your first DUI. DUIs are generally classified as Class B misdemeanors but can be elevated to Class A misdemeanors if the following circumstances are present:
There was a passenger younger than 16 in the vehicle at the time of the offense.
The driver is 21 years old or older and had a passenger younger than 18 in the vehicle at the time of the offense.
The driver was driving on the wrong side of the freeway or controlled-access highway.
The driver had a previous DUI conviction within 10 years of the current one.
DUI as a Felony
Repeat convictions, specifically two or more DUI convictions within the past 10 years, can elevate a current DUI to a third-degree felony. A DUI can also be raised to a felony if:
The current DUI conviction involves an accident causing another person harm or death.
The current DUI conviction follows a previous felony DUI conviction.
Jail Time, Fines, and Accessory Punishments for DUIs in Utah
The penalties for a misdemeanor DUI include mandatory jail time ranging from two to 20 days, depending on the severity of the conviction, or reduced jail time and 30 or 60 days of home confinement with substance abuse testing.
Jail time can be suspended if the accused participates in a 24/7 sobriety program. Courts can decide if the accused in a misdemeanor DUI is required to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicles.
Misdemeanor DUIs also come with a driver’s license suspension that can be extended at the discretion of the court, at least $700 in fines, and additional costs for surcharges and court expenses.
A felony DUI conviction is punishable by up to five years in prison, or 60 or 120 days in jail, and the equivalent amount of time in electronic home confinement. Following misdemeanor DUIs, courts also have the discretion to extend the driver’s license suspension and order the installation of an ignition interlock device for a felony DUI.
Fines for felony DUIs can start at $1,500 if no prison term is imposed.
Utah Dram Shop Law
In Utah, DUI victims can pursue compensation for their injuries from all negligent parties. This means that if you’re injured in a DUI accident, you can sue the person or establishment that sold or provided alcohol to the person or customer responsible for the accident.
However, state laws qualify that in order to be held liable for the intoxication of another person, it must be proven that the accused in the DUI case is either 21 years old or younger, that they were clearly already intoxicated when provided the alcoholic product, or that they were a known interdicted individual.
The following circumstances are sufficient to prove that a person or establishment is liable for the intoxication of an accused in a DUI case:
The person or establishment provided the last alcoholic product that the accused consumed before the incident.
The accused consumed an alcoholic product at the location where the potentially negligent individual or establishment directly provided such an alcoholic product.
The incident occurred within 30 minutes of the alleged consumption and within 10 miles of the location where the alcoholic product was provided to the accused.
The accused was charged with a DUI in relation to the injuries caused to others.
Utah Dram Shop Liability Insurance
When a business applies for a license to sell, serve, or store liquor, it must show that it has enough insurance to cover any problems related to the distribution of alcohol. This includes dram shop insurance with at least $2 million in coverage and public liability insurance that meets the requirements set by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Drunk Driving Injury in Utah?
If someone is injured in a drunk driving accident, they can bring a civil action against the at-fault driver to recover economic and noneconomic damages.
There are no hard-and-fast numbers attached to economic damages. Instead, the computation depends on the amount of expenses, such as lost wages, lost fringe benefits, medical costs, and rehabilitation expenses. Experts from different fields are usually employed to give the court an accurate estimate of the damages that victims are entitled to. These experts provide the court with reports summarizing their opinions regarding the compensation that the plaintiff deserves.
Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, are more subjective damages that are generally harder to quantify in court. These damages basically cover the emotional and mental trauma that DUI victims suffered due to the incident. Common terms used to describe these damages include loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
In rare cases, punitive damages may be awarded to victims of particularly negligent drunk drivers. Punitive damages act as a sort of warning or personal admonishment from the court, a way to deter future incidents from happening by levying a penalty of at least $50,000 against the drunk driver.
Regardless of the kind of compensation awarded to a victim, it may be offset by their comparative negligence in the case. If they are partially responsible for the DUI that caused their injuries, their legal compensation is reduced proportionally according to their degree of fault in the case.
For example, if you, as the victim, are found to be 20% liable for the incident, your legal compensation will be reduced by 20% to account for your comparative negligence. If your responsibility is 50% or above, then you are disqualified from suing the drunk driver for legal compensation.
The Statute of Limitations for DUIs in Utah
Civil actions arising from injuries sustained in a DUI-related accident must be filed within two years of the incident if the DUI is a misdemeanor. If the DUI is considered a felony, the statute of limitations is four years. This period can be extended if the accused leaves the state before the deadline for filing a civil action against them. In this case, the statute of limitations is paused until the accused returns to Utah’s jurisdiction.
If the victim in a DUI accident is a minor or mentally incompetent, then the statute of limitations will not begin until that legal defect is cured, meaning the victim has reached the age of majority, their mental incompetence is cured, or they gain the assistance of a legal guardian to file the case on their behalf.
If the victim of a drunk driving accident passes away before filing a civil lawsuit, their representatives may do so within the statute of limitations or one year after the victim's passing, whichever comes later.
Resources for DUI Victims in Utah
The following are organizations or initiatives dedicated to providing emotional, financial, and legal assistance to people victimized by impaired or drunk drivers, whether that is the victims themselves or their families. Some of the items on this list also assist drunk drivers, helping rehabilitate them with the goal of preventing the offenses from reoccurring.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Candy Lightner established the non-profit organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1980 after her daughter lost her life as a result of injuries sustained in a DUI hit-and-run accident. The organization hosts support groups where people can comfort each other and work through the emotional burden of the accident, assists victims or their family members in court, and refers DUI survivors to outside resources such as legal counsel for issues and assistance outside of the organization’s scope. It also works with the government assistance program Crime Victim Compensation to help victims and surviving family members cover things such as medical expenses and funeral costs.
The Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health
The Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health is an instrumentality of Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services. SUMH provides recovery resources for citizens struggling with substance abuse, such as evidence-based prevention programs targeted at reducing behavioral problems like substance abuse disorders, online recovery groups for individuals in different stages of recovery, and supported employment programs for people looking to get back on their feet during or after recovery. SUMH also provides interested organizations with the resources needed to qualify for a DUI Education Provider or Instructor license. It also offers training programs to shops and food-service establishments aimed at proper alcohol-serving practices according to Utah laws.
Utah Office for Victims of Crimes
The Utah Office for Victims of Crimes is a government-backed program that provides financial assistance to victims or families of victims of criminal offenses. The program’s primary goal is to help offset out-of-pocket expenses incurred by crime victims and their families. In addition to expenses for physical injuries, the office gives applicants financial assistance for psychological recovery costs caused by the criminal offense or the death of the victim in the case of family member applicants. The program also provides grant funding to private nonprofits and local or state government victim service providers throughout Utah.
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