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A national alcohol lobbying group continues its assault on Utah's strict, new drunken-driving law, this time with a full-page newspaper advertisement suggesting that senior citizens including Gov. Gary Herbert and some state lawmakers are a bigger risk than consumers who have had a cocktail before getting behind the wheel.
The advertisement, paid for by the American Beverage Institute (ABI), asks in a satirical headline "Too Impaired to Drive?" and suggests that drivers 65 and older "are more impaired ANY TIME they drive" than consumers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.05.
Earlier this year, Utah lowered its blood-alcohol content limit for DUI from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, becoming the first state in the country to adopt the stricter standard.
"Our point is to illustrate how silly the law is," Sarah Longwell, ABI's managing director said in a telephone interview. "It's absurd that you would keep people over 65 from driving and it's absurd that a person who has had one drink and a low level of impairment would be put in jail."
The advertisements, to be published Thursday in The Salt Lake Tribune, include photographs of the governor and 10 Utah lawmakers who are 65 and older.
"If Utah legislators believe drivers at .05 should go to jail, should those over 65 be arrested for DWO (Driving While Older)?" the ad asks.
The ABI said it used research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make its claims.
Almost anything increases the risk of a car accident, even something as simple as listening to the radio, Longwell said. "In fact, a driver who is talking on a hands-free cellphone or who slept a several hours fewer than usual the night before is more impaired than a driver at the former DUI arrest level of .08."
Utah needs to put traffic-safety threats into perspective and apply finite resources to problems backed up by logic, Longwell said. "That way we can actually make Utah's roads safer."
Because the law doesn't take effect until Dec. 30, 2018, Longwell said the ABI will continue to push for full repeal. It also is hoping the issue, being lobbied actively by the National Transportation Safety Board, doesn't get proposed in other states.
"We don't want bad ideas to spread," she said.
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who sponsored HB155 and doesn't see the law being repealed, is surprised by the continued push from the ABI.
"It's not going to affect Utah policy," he said, calling the advertising campaign ''pandering" and "fear mongering."
"It's an attempt to make people think that this is bad policy," he said. "But the data is on our side that show it is a good policy."
He said there is significant research that shows older drivers self regulate they don't drive at night, they don't drive on highways or in bad weather. They also tend not to drink and drive.
"We know you can't prevent people from getting older," he said. "But you can prevent people from drinking and driving."
The new ad is the latest strike in ABI's war against the new state drunken-driving law.
Since the Utah law was passed and signed by the governor, the group has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars placing full-page ads in Idaho and Nevada newspapers as well as USA Today.
The group also launched a petition drive urging repeal of the law. To date more than 15,000 people have signed it.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted the ad would be published in the Deseret News.