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Drunken drivers face stiffer penalties, restrictions

With public concern growing and high-profile drunken driving cases fresh in their memories, lawmakers took several steps to tighten sanctions against drunken drivers.

"The Legislature is aware this is a major problem," said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield. "That's why these bills passed through so easily. We recognize that this is the greatest cause of death from a violent crime."

Midway through the session, Ray introduced HB353, which would have required a 30-day jail sentence for a first-time DUI conviction. Eventually ruled too expensive, Ray took out the 30-day requirement, leaving its main focus a tenet that allows judges to suspend a drunken driver's license for up to two years.

The bill also raised the penalty against an intoxicated driver for having minors age 16 or 17 in his vehicle from a class B misdemeanor to a class A on the first and second offenses.

At one point the House considered a move to "publicly shame" those convicted of drunken driving by placing a red "D" on their rear car bumper, but decided against that action.

Lawmakers passed the following bills:

HB 200, sponsored by Rep. Lamont Tyler, R-Salt Lake City, makes technical clarifications to a bill passed in 1994 about ignition interlocks. Although several hundred applicable cases have warranted ignition interlocks — devices that prevent someone from driving a car while intoxicated — local judges have ordered fewer than 200.

Tyler's bill makes interlocks available to indigent offenders, clarifies that it is illegal for a DUI offender who has been ordered to install the device to drive without it and amends the statute to include an exception for offenders whose DUI cases involve drugs other than alcohol.

HB 201 increases from six to 10 years the time window used for determining prior DUI offenses. The bill, also sponsored by Tyler, tweaks the law to clarify that if a prior offense is a felony, then any subsequent DUI offense also should be a felony.

HB196 amends state law to require court-ordered supervised probation for DUI offenders with high blood alcohol levels, with a prior conviction within six years or with offenders whose DUI involved a drug other than alcohol.

HB 81, sponsored by Rep. Carl Saunders, R-Ogden, strengthens training and responsibilities for those who serve alcohol in restaurants and bars.

This year's legislative action may signal things to come.

Last week, Senate Majority Whip John Valentine, R-Orem, said next year he plans to close a loophole that allows judges to opt out of a two-day jail sentence in lieu of community service or home confinement. And Ray, who has lost five family members and friends to drunken drivers, will launch more aggressive legislation next year.

"This year we tightened a lot of loopholes in the law," he said. "Next year will be the final piece of the puzzle."