SALT LAKE CITY – Utah’s governor announced Thursday that he will sign legislation that the predominantly Mormon state, the strictest DUI threshold in the country, a change that restaurant groups and representatives of the ski and snowboard industry say will hurt tourism.
The republican Gov. Gary Herbert said that he plans to the approval of the measure lowering the blood alcohol limit for most drivers to .05 percent from .08 percent and that it will save lives.
Opponents had urged him to veto the bill, saying that it would punish responsible drinkers and polishing of Utah’s reputation as a Mormon-majority state that is unfriendly for people who drink alcohol.
“People are going to try to say this is a religious issue. And that is absolutely false. This is a public safety issue,” the governor, who is Mormon, said at a press conference.
Proponents say that it is a resounding message that people should not drink and drive, regardless of how little someone has had to drink.
Restaurant groups, including the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, Utah Restaurant Association and the national American Beverage Institute, said that they don’t support drunk driving, but a .05 limit is not to catch drivers who are actually impaired.
Rep. Norm Thurston, a Republican who sponsored the measure, says it will make people think twice about drinking and driving.
If the driver is not impaired, they will not get a DUI, Thurston said, because the police can not measure a person’s blood alcohol level, until they have seen visible signs of deterioration, and the person does not take a field sobriety test.
He also pointed out that Utah led the country in 1983 by becoming the first state to a lower blood alcohol limit to .08 percent, and since then, tourism has flourished.
Utah’s Tourism board said it was not concerned about the measure to discourage visitors, to note that a number of foreign countries such as France and Australia have similar laws and do not have a problem with attracting tourists.
In the whole country, the blood-alcohol content limit for most drivers is .08, but limits vary between states for commercial drivers, or drivers that have a past DUI conviction.
For several years, the National Transportation Safety Board has encouraged states drop the blood-alcohol-content levels to .05 or even lower, although the local officials have adopted the standards, partially as a result of the pressure of the hospitality industry.
Lawmakers in Washington and Hawaii had been considered as a reduction of their blood-alcohol limits to .05 this year, but both measures appear dead.
The new threshold in Utah would take effect on Dec. 30, 2018, just before New Year’s Eve.
The American Beverage Institute says .05 limit would be just a 150-pound man with a DUI after two beers, while a 120-pound woman could get after a drink, but that can be affected by a number of factors, including how much food is consumed.
Even before the measure, drivers in Utah with a blood alcohol level below .08 could still be charged if the enforcement of the act, the person was under the influence of alcohol and impaired their ability to drive safely.
Utah has some of the lowest rates of fatal DUI accidents in the country. The population is booming in the last ten years, particularly as more people move in from other states, the DUI arrests have decreased.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving has said that it is not supporting the measure, but has a neutral position.
J. T. Griffin, a government affairs officer for the group, said in a statement that MADD is focused on “countermeasures that work, such as ignition interlock laws for all drunk driving offenders and sobriety checkpoints.”