SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Restaurant groups and officials from Utah’s skiing industry are urging Gov. Gary Herbert to veto a bill giving Utah the strictest drunken driving threshold in the nation, lowering the blood alcohol limit to .05 from .08.
The Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, Ski Utah and the American Beverage Institute, a national restaurant group, say the proposal could punish responsible drinkers and do further damage to a state that’s struggled to shrug of the reputation as a heavily Mormon place where it’s hard to get a drink.
“With already some quirky laws and some perceptions, misperceptions nationally that maybe you can’t even get a drink in Utah, this just puts you one step backward,” Ski Utah spokesman Paul Marshall said.
Utah’s state tourism office said it doesn’t think the proposal would discourage visitors because many countries in Europe and elsewhere have a .05 limit.
Vicki Varela, the managing director of Utah’s Office of Tourism, Film and Global Branding, said in an email that “other world-renowned tourist destinations like France, Germany and Australia have similar laws.”
Herbert has said he supports the measure, but the Republican governor has stopped short of committing to sign it. He has until March 29 to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. Herbert’s office had no comment Wednesday about whether he intends to sign it or a response to the hospitality industry’s concerns.
The proposal would mean that a 150-pound man could get a DUI after two beers, while a 120-pound woman could get one after a single drink, according to the American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade group that opposes the bill. A number of factors, including how much food is in someone’s stomach, could impact how much a drink will raise someone’s blood-alcohol content.
Across the country, the blood-alcohol content limit for most drivers is 0.08, but limits vary among states for commercial drivers or drivers who have had a past DUI conviction.
At a blood-alcohol content of 0.05 percent, a driver may have trouble steering and have a harder time coordinating, tracking moving objects and responding to emergencies, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
For several years, the National Transportation Safety Board has encouraged states to drop their blood-alcohol content levels to 0.05 or even lower, though local officials have not adopted the standards, in part because of pressure from the hospitality industry.
Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association executive director Michele Corigliano said the measure would “absolutely slam restaurants” and her group is planning to rally at the Capitol on Friday to ask Herbert to veto the plan.
She said the proposal would turn responsible drinkers who aren’t impaired into criminals and would cause DUI rates to climb in the state. She said higher DUI rates would lead to higher car insurance rates and higher rates of dram shop insurance that restaurants have to cover their liability in case a patron who is served alcohol later causes injury or death.
Corigliano said the proposal would also hurt restaurants financially because fewer patrons may choose to have a drink with dinner or may decide they should stay home.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Norm Thurston, of Provo, said he doesn’t think it will cause DUIs or insurance to rise because the proposal doesn’t change the way police investigate drunk driving. He said police would still have to have probable cause, such as visible signs of impairment, to stop a driver or administer a field sobriety test. Only after someone fails a field sobriety test would their blood alcohol level be measured, he said.
“If you’re not impaired, you never get past that step,” Thurston said. He said his chief concern is trying to save lives.
“I’m not here to support the industry that supports drinking and driving,” Thurston said of the hospitality groups. “They’re making money off people drinking and driving.”
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