A new Utah law lowering the maximum blood-alcohol limit doesn’t take effect until the end of 2018. But a restaurant trade association isn’t waiting to begin an assault on it.
The American Beverage Institute took out a full-page ad in Tuesday’s Idaho Statesman with the headline “Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation.”
The ad shows a mock police mugshot of a woman holding a card saying she was arrested in Salt Lake County for the crime of having “one drink with dinner.”
The law lowers the limit from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, the lowest level in the United States, though it matches the limit in some European nations.
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The ad is designed to put pressure on the Utah Legislature to reconsider.
Idaho sends more vacationers to Utah than any state except California, said Sarah Longwell, the beverage institute’s managing director. Nevada is No. 3.
“We’re sending a message that maybe Colorado or Montana are better places to go for a ski vacation. Or stay home in Idaho,” said Longwell, who works in the institute’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The ad says that having just one drink with dinner “could possibly land you in jail.”
That might not be true for men, who generally weigh more than women, Longwell said. “But if you’re a 120-pound woman, one 6-ounce glass of wine could put you in that range,” she said.
The National Transportation Safety Board has advocated lowering the limit to 0.05 percent to reduce fatalities caused by impaired drivers. Since 1995, the proportion of traffic fatalities associated with alcohol-impaired drivers has remained between 30 percent and 32 percent, the board said.
Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill last month, but the ink was barely dry when he said he plans to call the Legislature into special session late this summer to consider changing it. He said he is open to a suggestion that Utah wait until three or four other states enact similar laws to lessen the possible negative impact on tourism.
Herbert said he would also consider supporting lesser penalties for drivers with alcohol levels of between 0.05 percent and 0.08 percent.
“Everything is on the table,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Longwell said Utah lawmakers hurried the bill. “There was so little discussion, and people didn’t have time to weigh in,” she said.
France, Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Germany all enforce a 0.05 percent level. In Bosnia and Herzegovina it’s 0.031 percent.
Utah and Oregon were the first states to lower the maximum alcohol level for drivers from 0.10 percent to 0.08, in 1983. Idaho did it in 1997.
Dan Howard, director of communications for Visit Park City, said his ski-resort town is well-equipped to handle visitors who have been drinking and shouldn’t be on the road driving. The city provides free shuttle buses, as do many hotels and resorts. Park City also has robust Uber and Lyft ride services.
Park City, he said, isn’t worried about a loss in business.
“I just hope whether the limit is .08 percent or .05, they don’t drive impaired,” he said.