Controversy Arises As Utah Lowers DUI Limit To .05

On Wednesday, Gov. Gary Herbert was sent a measure by Utah’s Legislature to lower the state’s legal threshold for drunken driving to a .05 percent blood-alcohol content. If Herbert signs the bill into law, which is expected, it will make Utah’s DUI threshold the lowest in the nation.

A controversial bill:

Kirsten Rappleye, Herbert’s public information officer emailed a statement on Thursday that the governor supports the bill along with another legislation that will ease the “Zion Curtain” barrier requirements for restaurants that serve alcohol.

Alcohol-friendly opponents who have been opposing the state’s existing .08 percent BAC limit, are irritated by the new DUI bill.

They argue that Utah is hostile towards alcohol drinkers due to the practices of the state’s Mormon majority despite the fact that the .08 percent limit has been forced in areas of the country where the Mormom Church doesn’t have significant social influence since the federal government required tying highway funds to the DUI standard more than a decade ago.

Sarah Longwell, Managing Director of the American Beverage Institute stated that the bill will not make roads safer as more than 77% of alcohol-related traffic deaths in Utah come from drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 and above. She said: “Utah legislators missed an opportunity to target the hard-core drunk drivers who cause the vast majority of drunk driving fatalities and instead decided to criminalize perfectly responsible behavior,”

Owner of Cedar City’s Centro Woodfired Pizza, Mark Baruffi said: “It makes it that much harder for people to make the decision to even purchase that one drink. It’s not our job to be the conscience of a customer or monitor their drinking. If anything, I don’t see what the point of it is. Are (officials) trying to increase state revenue from DUIs? Now they know that they can watch any restaurant that serves alcohol and have a pretty good chance of any customer that leaves for a DUI. It’s a law that I think reflects negatively on the state more than any of the other things that have gone on with the liquor laws here.”

Director of the Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism Bureau, Maria Twitchell said: “We are concerned because it’s the lowest in the country and we’re trying to be good hosts in a national and international market. There’s concern that, because it’s so low, even food sales might be affected. A reduction in drinking will lead to a reduction in food sales. That can affect our tax base as we rely on food sales.”

Protecting the drivers:

However, the bill’s supporters say that frustrating those who drink isn’t its purpose, it’s about protecting the state’s drivers.

The limit is important because a person starts to become impaired with the first drink, according to Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who sponsored the measure in the state’s House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, Thurston said that the problem with the current law is that it sends the message that people can drink up to a certain point and then drive. A number of foreign countries have blood-alcohol content thresholds at .05 or lower, he added. And a driver with a blood-alcohol content of .05 percent 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.