This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Gov. Gary Herbert is drinking in plenty of advice from all sides on whether to sign or veto a bill that would make Utah's drunken driving laws the toughest in the nation.
On Tuesday, he met with bar and restaurant groups that urged a veto of HB155 which would lower the legal blood-alcohol content limit while driving from 0.08 to 0.05. These opponents say it will put a damper on tourism, chase away new companies and hurt the economy by making Utah look weird and unwelcoming to drinkers.
A day earlier Herbert had extended meetings with officials from the state departments of safety and transportation who said the bill could increase safety and reduce deaths. He also met with the Utah Office of Tourism.
The governor offered a terse reply to a reporter's question about whether he had made up his mind: "I have not."
"We see pros and cons," said his spokesman, Paul Edwards. "He's concerned about public safety, but he also recognizes that there may be unintended consequences for the image of the state."
Meanwhile, his office is fielding plenty of phone calls about HB155. At the end of Monday, 1,555 calls had come in urging a veto, and 166 supporting HB155 a nine-to-one margin against it.
"The governor is attentive to constituent response," Edwards said about those calls. "It is one of many factors. Ultimately, he wants to do what makes sense for good policy."
The governor "is spending a lot of time on this specific issue to try to understand the science and other data related to what we've seen" and how similar changes in the past "affected things like tourism."
The Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association (SLARA) and the Utah Restaurant Association (URA) said it would hurt tourism as they urged a veto in separate meetings Tuesday with the governor.
"We asked him to veto it because it's bad for Utah's economy and may prevent people from coming to Utah," said Michele Corigliano, SLARA executive director. "We pointed to the state's robust economy and asked him not to thwart the momentum we have going."
Melva Sine, president of the URA, said many unanswered questions linger about issues that could hurt her industry. That includes the ability for bars and restaurants to obtain liability insurance for potentially not doing enough to prevent someone from exceeding the 0.05 limit, when impairment may be less obvious than under the current standard.
She also worries about the ability to attract out-of-state conventions. "There are consequences that haven't been looked into," she said.
The DUI bill seemed to pass without much public debate, Sine observed, as the food industry focused instead on HB442, an alcohol-reform bill that included offering new alternatives to the "Zion Curtain" barrier that keeps children from seeing drinks mixed in restaurants.
"We take a baby step forward and a giant step backward," Sine said. "That seems to be our modus operandi."
Vicki Varela, state director of tourism and film, pointed out some pros and cons for the governor.
She said anytime national attention is given to liquor laws in Utah which has already occurred with HB155 "there is a potential for misunderstanding and having to explain all over again that, 'yes, you can get a drink in Utah.' "
On the other hand, she said, "Everybody wants to feel safe when they travel, including not being near a drunk driver on the road."
One argument against the bill used in full-page newspaper ads by the American Beverage Institute is that it could increase DUI arrests by targeting people who may not be truly impaired.
The Utah Department of Public Safety, which includes the Utah Highway Patrol, issued a statement after HB155 passed disagreeing with that.
"We do not expect a significant change for law enforcement with the implementation of a .05 BAC limit," the agency said. "Law enforcement officers in Utah, consistent with national standards, are trained to make arrests for DUI based on impairment and the inability to safely operate a vehicle."
Breathalyzer tests are administered after someone is pulled over for erratic driving, and after they fail a field sobriety test.
John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, which also met with the governor, said it supports the goals of the bill.
"We had 33 deaths from DUI last year. We want to do anything to reduce that, and reach our goal of zero fatalities. We are supportive of any efforts to achieve that," he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board has called for a national 0.05 limit, and testified twice for HB155 at the Legislature. The board said numerous studies show that people start to be impaired after only one drink, and are noticeably impaired at 0.04 which is the BAC limit nationally for commercial truck drivers.
The NTSB also notes that more than 100 countries in the world have a 0.05 limit, and the United States is among few that do not. The limit tends to separate drinking from driving, according to the board, and countries with an 0.05 limit drink more but have fewer deaths from drunken driving.
Edwards said the governor "wants to be completely comfortable that he is making the best possible decision," and adds that may take until March 29, the last day for him to veto bills, sign them or allow them to take effect without his signature.
Highest, lowest DUI fatalities
Highest percentage of traffic fatalities involving alcohol
1. North Dakota, 50.7%
2. South Carolina, 50.6%
3. Connecticut, 48%
4. Texas, 46%
5. Massachussetts, 45%
National Average: 37%
46. Kentucky, 30.41%
48. Georgia, 30.11%
49. Minnesota, 29.72%
50. Utah, 21%
Source: Analysis of 2013 data by Nattional Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Blood-alchol content and Utah fatal accidents, 2013
An analysis of 2013 data by the National Highway Safety Administration shows how many fatal accidents in Utah involved drivers with different BAC levels.
• Total fatal accidents: 220
• No alcohol involved: 175, 80%
• BAC 0.01 to 0.07: 6, 3%
• BAC 0.08 - 0.14: 14, 6%
• BAC 0.15 and higher: 25, 11%