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Utah is likely to become the first state in the nation to limit drivers to a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05.
Senators voted 17-12 on Wednesday for HB155, which reduces Utah's definition of driving under the influence from a 0.08 BAC to 0.05. The Senate vote follows a House vote of 48-26 last month.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert confirmed Wednesday the governor is "supportive" of the measure without yet committing to sign it into law.
Senate sponsor Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said the intention is not to increase the number of DUI charges in the state. Instead, he said, a lower BAC limit will encourage individuals who drink to hesitate before getting behind the wheel of a car.
"This is not a drinking bill," Adams said. "It's a driving bill. It's a public safety bill."
The average man would reach the legal limit with three drinks, the average woman at two.
The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that all states transition to a 0.05 BAC limit. And Adams pointed out that Canada, Australia and most European countries currently use a 0.05 restriction.
Utah was the first state to adopt a BAC limit of 0.08, Adams said, and should continue the trend of setting safe driving standards.
"Utah leads," Adams said. "Utah led then, and I think we ought to lead now."
But Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, suggested the change could hurt the state's tourism industry. It would be better to let other states lead out on lowering BAC, he said, so that Utah lawmakers could make the decision based on traffic fatality and DUI data.
"Let's let another state go ahead of us," he said, "and let's see if this really will work or not."
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said he supported the policy of a lower BAC limit, but was concerned about the timing. The Legislature's actions had already drawn attention to the state this year, he said, and a change to DUI laws would be better postponed for another session.
"I think maybe this is one that I would prefer to address at a later time," he said.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard said the state needs to send a message against drinking and driving. And tourists, he said, will feel safer on Utah's roads knowing that individuals who drink are electing not to drive.
"Not all tourists come here to drink," he said.