Police Car LightsDrunk Driving Laws

Every 40 minutes, a person dies because of a drunk driver. This statistic does not even consider all those affected in non-fatal accidents. With the large number of drunk driving accidents, it is important to understand Utah’s laws concerning these types of accidents. This page gives you an overview of  laws in an effort to better help you if you are ever in this situation. We cannot give you legal advice specific to your case unless we agree to take it, but we want to help you avoid making any major mistakes when you or a loved one gets injured by a drunk driver.

How can I prove that the other driver was drunk?

The easiest way to show that the driver was illegally drunk, resulting in the accident, is by either of the descriptions set by Utah law:

  1. having a breath or blood alcohol level of .08 grams or higher when the person was driving or from a chemical test later, or
  2. being unable to safely drive the vehicle because of alcohol levels.

However, if this cannot be shown then you can show that the driver was “profane, uncooperative, or threatening” around the time of the accident (Utah Auto Law). However, the evidence must come from a time close enough to the accident (Watkins v. Utah Poultry). Otherwise, you cannot prove that being drunk led the driver to cause the accident. Further, the smell of alcohol or an empty bottle of alcohol in the car does not prove that the driver was drunk (Utah Farm Bureau v. Chugg).

What penalties does a drunk driver face?

A drunk driver could face a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail if it is their first or second DUI. The penalty increases to a possible $2,500 fine and/or a year in jail if he injured someone or had passengers under 18 years old. If the driver causes more serious injuries to someone or has more than three DUIs in the past 10 years, then they will face a third degree felony. This can potentially come with a $5,000 fine and/or 1-5 years in jail. Also, each person a drunk driver hits counts as a separate criminal offense. The court may also penalize the drunk driver beyond the criminal punishments. It may punish this driver for recklessly disregarding the safety of others by making the drunk driver pay additional fines to the injured people (Biswell v. Duncan). It determines the amount based on how much money and other financial assets the driver has. Before the court can determine how much to punish the drunk driver, it must determine if their actions proved a reckless disregard for others’ safety. The court will consider excessive drinking as evidence of this (Biswell v. Duncan). However, the court will not punish the driver for just meeting the DUI level (Miskin v. Carter).

Who else can be held responsible for the accident?

In addition to the actual drunk driver, other people may be held responsible for causing the accident. The court can hold any person who provides alcohol to the driver partially responsible for a drunk driving accident. However, this only happens under certain circumstances. If a business provided the alcohol, then the person it provided it to must have been one of following types of people:

  1. someone under 21 years old,
  2. someone who appears to be drunk, or
  3. someone with a DUI or other criminal record.

If the person who provided the alcohol was not part of a business, then different circumstances apply. In this case:

  1. the person must have given the alcohol to a person under 21 years old,
  2. which led to the person becoming drunk, and
  3. that then caused the injuries or death in an accident.

If the injured person dies from the accident, this claim can still be made. However, it must be done within two years of the accident. Utah law limits the total amount of money that these people must pay and does not allow for the punishing payments that drunk drivers may face. Even more details and specifics are given in Utah’s laws.

What other laws should I be aware of?

The insurance company can reduce a drunk driver’s insurance coverage to the minimum levels if they cause an accident. A drunk driver cannot argue that he was entitled to drink legally. The laws surrounding drunk driving accidents can seem complex and overwhelming. Christensen & Hymas wants to help guide you through this difficult and hard time. Feel free to call us at (801) 506-0800 for a free consultation. And remember that drinking and driving never ends well for anyone.

Photo “Police Car Lights” copyright by Scott Davidson.

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