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When the Utah Highway Patrol conducted a statewide Halloween DUI blitz using 160 additional troopers to bust impaired drivers, a Utah lawmaker noticed something that disturbed him.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, was one of five legislators who accepted invitations to witness the dragnet, which tallied 33 DUI arrests in Salt Lake County alone.

The trooper who Eliason accompanied made three arrests Halloween night. Two of them were minors.

"I don't think these teens who were arrested that night had any idea the consequences they now face," Eliason said. "I don't think they had any idea how serious this is."

According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, a first-time DUI bust will cost the offender, if convicted, about $10,000. That includes fines, bail, towing charges, court costs, attorney fees, DUI-education classes and added high-risk insurance.

The department has worked to educate the public on the draconian effects of a DUI arrest. Billboards dot the highways depicting a DUI suspect blowing into a Breathalyzer with the caption: "You just blew $10,000."

But Eliason believes that is not enough.

"The fines and penalties are about right because it's a serious offense," Eliason said of the class B misdemeanor for the first DUI. "But new drivers are not being educated enough about the consequences they will face if they get a DUI."

One problem Eliason is striving to fix was caused by a glitch in the law created when the Legislature tweaked driver-license requirements to provide more experience behind the wheel for learners before they get a permanent license.

A person now can get a learner's permit at age 15. But, with that permit, the teen must have an adult in the car at all times. After a year of driving with an adult, the teen can apply for a permanent license at 16. But the law inadvertently eliminated the requirement that the learner take a final written exam after the temporary-permit period before getting a license.

"We don't require them to show their knowledge of the driving requirements before they get their license," Eliason said. "We need to fix that."

Eliason sponsored legislation to address that oversight last year. His bill passed the House, but it got to the Senate too late in the session to reach a vote there.

Eliason plans to bring back the bill this year. He not only wants a requirement that new drivers take a written exam before getting their license, he wants the questions skewed toward the types of mistakes that can lead to death or injury.

He wants questions that, if answered correctly, ensure the new driver understands the consequences and cost of a DUI. Hopefully, that knowledge will deter motorists from driving after drinking.

Eliason also wants a flexible test, with the Driver License Division including questions about the causes of fatalities. For example, if the latest statistics show an increase in the number of deaths due to motorists not wearing seat belts, more questions would focus on buckling up. The same would go for motorcyclists without helmets dying in crashes.

prolly@sltribcom —