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DUI arrests, license suspensions double in Valley since 2010

September 10th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

By Todd Hamann

LOGAN—Drunken driving hearings in Cache Valley have doubled compared to this same time last year—from 13 in August 2010 to 24 this year—Stephen Bevan, supervisor of the Logan Driver License Division (DLD), said Thursday.

Given such an increase, combined with longer license suspension times and higher fines, this may be a good time to review the process that starts when someone is arrested for driving under the influence.

“Driving under the influence is not just about alcohol,” said hearing officer Bonilyn Helquist of the Logan DLD office. “It includes driving under any influence—alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription medications, and anything else that would impair someone’s ability to drive.”

Roughly 40 percent of DUI hearings are prescription drug-related, not alcohol, said Helquist, although she said she has conducted hearings on cases in which Benadryl was the impairing drug.

“It’s about the ability to drive,” she said. “It doesn’t even matter if the drugs are in the prescribed limits—if the drug is detected and there is impairment, the arrest can stick.”

Those arrested for DUI have 10 days to request a DLD hearing, which is the only way to appeal mandatory license suspensions, which can last from six months to three years.

The extended mandatory suspension times are based on the DUI arrest, not the conviction, DLD officials say. “If the court totally dismisses the arrest, but the driver didn’t request a hearing, they will still get their license suspended,” Helquist said.
Earlier this year, the state Legislature increased license suspension times for DUI.

Drivers 16 to 18 years old who are arrested for DUI will be looking at a 1- to 2-year suspension; 19- to 20-year-old drivers will lose their license for six months, and drivers over 21 lose their licenses for 120 days for the first arrest. Subsequent DUI arrests dramatically increase suspension times.

Those found driving with a suspended license will add another full suspension term, up to a year, Bevan said.

And if the DUI arrest turns into a conviction, Helquist said, even after serving time and suspension, the driver will be required to install an interlock device to test their blood-alcohol levels in order to start their car. The initial cost of the device ranges from $200-$300, plus bi-weekly calibrations for $30, Helquist said.

Chris Brunson, a Logan DLD examiner, said that in addition to the suspension times and interlock restrictions, the fees to reinstate a license can run upwards of $300.

“The most frustrating thing about all this is that it’s not a deterrent,” Helquist said. “The state is not funding any new hearing officers, and we are so busy because the arrests are only increasing.”


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