Utah Attacked For Lowering BAC Limit

By Kelly Burch 04/28/17

The American Beverage Institute launched a campaign which they hope will pressure Utah into repealing the new law.

devastated driver being asked to blow into breathalyzer during traffic stop.

Utah’s new law that lowered the legal blood alcohol content limit from 0.08 to 0.05 will not take effect for yearly 18 months, but one organization is already attacking the state’s tourism industry over the law, launching a new ad campaign titled "Utah: Come for Vacation, Leave on Probation.”

The American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade organization, launched the campaign with a full ad in The Idaho Statesman warning that vacationers in Utah who have “little more than one drink with dinner” could find themselves in jail under the new legislation. See the full ad here. Idaho was targeted because the state has a high tourism rate to Utah. The American Beverage Institute hopes that the ad campaign will pressure the Utah legislature to repeal the law before it takes effect. 

“It would be one thing if lowering the arrest level to .05 would actually save lives—but that’s not the case,” Sarah Longwell, the American Beverage Institute’s managing director, said in a statement. “In fact, only 1% of traffic fatalities involve a driver with a BAC between .05 and .08. And that’s because of a simple fact, driving with a .05 BAC is not dangerously impairing. In fact, you are more impaired talking on a hands-free cellphone than you are at the current arrest threshold of .08.”

The National Transportation Safety Board has called for a legal limit of 0.05, and testified in favor of the Utah bill. More than 100 countries have a BAC limit of 0.05, but Utah is the first state in the U.S. to pass legislation lowering the legal limit. Utah was also the first state to lower the legal limit to 0.08 years ago, and that limit has now become the norm. 

Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who signed the legislation in March, said that the lower limit is not unusual.

"We're not the first in the world, as 85% of the world's population already has reduced BAC maximums to 0.05,” he said

The governor said that the effect on tourism is being overstated. ”We don't see anyone not going to Rome and Italy, or Paris, France and other destinations and say they are weird because they have a 0.05… There is no evidence that it should impact negatively our tourism. It's something I looked at very carefully.”

A Salt Lake Tribune poll found that Utah residents are evenly split with their opinions on the lower legal limit. The Utah legislature is expected to work on the law during the upcoming session, considering things like lesser penalties for people who have between 0.05 and 0.08 BAC while driving. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.