This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Arrests for driving under the influence are dropping, and that may be one reason DUI-related deaths are rising, legislators were told Wednesday.
In fiscal 2014, Utah officers made 10,901 DUI busts. That was 1,326 fewer than in fiscal 2013, down 11 percent, according to an annual DUI report by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
Meanwhile, the number of DUI deaths related to alcohol increased from 20 to 23 between calendar 2012 and 2013, and fatalities from DUI caused by drugs jumped from 37 to 45.
Mary Lou Emerson, director of the Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council, said the decreasing arrests are happening, in part, because police budgets are not keeping pace with Utah's growing population.
"It's very difficult to keep up with law enforcement resources," she told the Transportation Interim Committee, " … to arrest all those who are impaired on the highways."
She noted that the Utah Highway Patrol has said it plans to make beefed-up DUI enforcement a priority for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. But Emerson added that slipping DUI arrests are part of a long-term trend.
"While Utah's population has continued to grow," Emerson said, "the DUI arrest rate has declined steadily, with a decrease of 36 percent since fiscal year 2009" when 15,683 DUI arrests were made.
Emerson pointed out that DUI deaths from illegal and prescription drugs "in the last two years have outnumbered the alcohol-related DUIs nearly 2-to-1."
"This is particularly disturbing," she said, "because of the widespread belief that prescription and over-the-counter drugs are not dangerous" because they are legal.
Emerson noted that a Davis County school bus driver was arrested Monday and charged with DUI after "taking prescription medication pain relievers, anti-anxiety medications that had indicated on the prescription that they cause dizziness and drowsiness."
"People don't take those warnings very seriously," Emerson added. "Because they are prescribed by doctors, they think they must be safe."
She said the drugs most commonly used in DUI deaths were "stimulants, such as methamphetamine and amphetamine; depressants or anti-anxiety drugs; opiate narcotics … and marijuana."
At a glance:
About 12% • The percentage of those arrested for DUI who were under the legal drinking age of 21, including two 14-year-olds.
1,296 • DUI arrests that were part of enforcement blitzes, saturation patrols and DUI sobriety checkpoints.
0.14 • The average blood-alcohol content for those arrested (0.08 is the legal limit). The highest blood-alcohol content recorded was 0.44.
10.5% • Of all road deaths were caused by drunken driving (related to alcohol) in 2013, a jump from 9.2 percent in 2012. The number from drug-related DUIs grew from 17.1 percent to 20.5 percent.