Utah set to bring in the strictest DUI laws in the nation for New Year’s Eve which is equivalent to less than three beers – and the rest of the country could soon follow

Sunday, December 30, 2018
By Paul Martin

The 0.05 percent limit goes into effect Sunday, despite protests
Critics say it will hurt the tourism industry in the predominantly Mormon state
Protesters also say the lower threshold will also punish responsible drinkers
Utah lawmakers say it encourages drinkers to not drive at all

30 December 2018

New Year’s Eve revelers in Utah could find themselves with more than a hangover as 2019 dawns. If they drink and drive, they could end up on the wrong side of the nation’s newest and lowest DUI threshold.

The 0.05 percent limit goes into effect Sunday, despite protests that it will punish responsible drinkers and hurt the state’s tourism industry by adding to the reputation that the predominantly Mormon state is unfriendly to those who drink alcohol. The state’s old limit was 0.08 percent, the threshold in most states.

For Utah lawmakers, the change is a safety measure aimed at encouraging people not to drive at all if they’ve been drinking.

The change was easily approved in 2017 by the Legislature, which is mostly Mormon and mostly Republican, and signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert, also a Republican and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The religion teaches its members to abstain from drinking alcohol.

‘The vast majority of people nationwide think that if a person has been drinking they shouldn’t be driving,’ said Republican Rep. Norm Thurston, who sponsored the measure.

The change means that depending on things such as food intake, a 150-pound man could be over the 0.05 limit after two beers in an hour, while a 120-pound woman could exceed it after a single drink in that time, according to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The National Transportation Safety Board also backs the change, and many in the hospitality industry worry that other states will follow suit. Utah was among the first to adopt the now-standard 0.08 threshold decades ago, and lawmakers in four states – Washington, Hawaii, Delaware and New York – have floated measures to lower their DUI limit in recent years. None has passed.

‘Other states proposing the 0.05 law, don’t just follow blindly in the footsteps of Utah,’ said Jackson Shedelbower, a spokesman for the American Beverage Institute, a national restaurant group.

In 2017, the group took out newspaper ads in Utah, neighboring states and in USA Today, featuring a fake mugshot under a large headline reading, ‘Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation.’

It’s unfair that smaller people could violate the new threshold after just one or two drinks in quick succession, even though they’re no more impaired than someone talking on a hands-free cellphone, his group argues.

NTSB member Bella Dinh-Zarr countered that fears about the law are overblown. Nearly 100 countries have a similar limit, and it hasn’t correlated with less drinking per-capita. Federally funded research indicates the standard could save some 1,500 lives a year if adopted around the U.S., she said.

‘The restaurant industry should support this because it keeps their customers alive and drinking,’ Dinh-Zarr said.

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