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WILL SPENDING CAPS OUST DRUNKEN-DRIVING SQUAD?

SHARE WILL SPENDING CAPS OUST DRUNKEN-DRIVING SQUAD?

The statistics are staggering. But the complexity of the calculations seem to almost choke the meaning out of the message.

Maybe that's why drunken driving continues to claim one life every five days in Utah. Maybe that's why every two days another person is seriously injured by an intoxicated driver.Maybe that's why despite the number of bills Utah's Legislature will consider to toughen drunken driving laws, they still can't find money to enforce those laws.

Because of a federal grant, Utah had a drunken driving squad made up of 13 officers dedicated to taking impaired drivers off the roads. Public Safety officials hoped the state would replace the federal money that's now gone.

Bill Dinehart, the legislative fiscal analyst responsible for recommending a budget for public safety, said there is just no money for the squad because of spending caps.

UHP spokesman Verdi White said the squad was responsible for 9 percent of the state's drunken driving arrests. That's 1,300 drunks, according to Suzanne Peterson, who started Freeway Watch, a citizens group that monitor drunken driving.

Without those officers, she said, legislators are sentencing hundreds of Utahns to death.

"Why don't you just line us up on the freeway and shoot us," she said. "It would take the suspense out of it. We're at war. The drunk drivers are at war. And (state leaders) want to cut back on the troops."

Public Safety Director Doug Bodrero pleaded with a legislative appropriations committee to find the money to fund the DUI squad. He called the refusal to fund the squad and the passage of more and tougher drunken driving laws a "dichotomy that I have a hard time reconciling."

"Here's a program that's proven . . . that's exceeded everybody's expectations of success, and they can't find the money to fund it," he said. "If the Legislature doesn't act, I'll have no choice but to disband the DUI Squad March 1. And that would be a tragic loss for the people of Utah."

Despite the shortage of officers, several legislators are backing, all with success so far, a number of bills that toughen Utah's penalties for drunken driving.

One bill sponsored by Rep. David Bresnahan, R-West Jordan, does away with community service as an alternative to jail time after a second DUI conviction. He also proposes minimum amounts on fines levied by judges.

Probably the most controversial part of his bill is revoking the registration of vehicles owned by a person convicted of drunken driving. Those opposed to that part of the bill say other family members will suffer because of one person's actions.

Bresnahan said that's part of the lesson he's trying to teach.

"(The drunken driver) needs to learn his actions affect other people besides himself," Bresnahan said. "It's the guy that has to answer (to his family), not the Legislature."

His bill also raises the impound fee from $25 to $100.

Three other bills make more minor adjustments to Utah's code on drunken driving.

- One would allow limited-use drivers' licenses for offenders to drive to and from work. Some state officials believe Utah would lose federal highway funds if the bill passes, because federal sentencing guidelines forbid limited-use licenses.

- Another bill changes the third or subsequent DUI offense committed within six years from a class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor or a third degree felony.

- Another enhances penalties for repeat offenders. The bill says that if a judge opts to suspend the prison sentence that comes with a third degree felony, he or she must impose a fine of at least $1,500, a jail sentence of 1,000 hours - about 42 days - and order the person to obtain treatment.

Most of the bills came out of a committee formed to study drunken driving.

Current law gives much of the leeway to a sentencing judge. In most cases, a judge can substitute jail time with community service hours and/or fines. It's also up to a judge to order drug and alcohol treatment as the law lists it only as an option, not a requirement.

Fines range from $500 to thousands of dollars. The most jail time a drunken driver can serve is one year, unless the offense becomes a felony. That usually requires that the defendant be involved in an injury or fatal accident.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Drinking and Driving: Facts

Unlawfully intoxicated: .08% blood alcohol level (.04% for commercial vehicles)

Blood alcohol levels

Approximate blood alcohol level within one hour after consuming drinks

Number of drinks* Weight (Pounds)

100 120 140 160 180 200 220 240

1 .04 .03 .03 .02 .02 .02 .02 .02

2 .08 .06 .05 .05 .04 .04 .03 .03

3 .11 .09 .08 .07 .06 .06 .05 .05 RISKY

****************************************************************

4 .15 .12 .11 .09 .08 .08 .07 .06

5 .19 .16 .13 .12 .11 .09 .09 .08

6 .23 .19 .16 .14 .13 .11 .10 .09

7 .26 .22 .19 .16 .15 .13 .12 .11

*1.5 ounce drink (86 proof), one 12-ounce beer, one 3 ounce glass of wine (12%)

Penalties: 6 months in jail and up to $1,000 fine

First offense: 90 days suspended license

Second offense: One year revoked license

Vehicle registration and license plates may also be suspended. A mandatory jail sentence or time in an alcohol rehabilitation facility is required.