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Utah restaurants that serve alcohol now need "Zion Curtains." Soon the state's bars and clubs may need breathalyzers to let patrons, if they choose, test their blood-alcohol levels before driving a car.
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, is drafting a bill that may require the devices on site, perhaps as "vending-machine breathalyzers." He said he is negotiating whether to make them mandatory for all clubs and bars or perhaps require them only in establishments cited for code violations.
"The original idea was to really mandate that these breathalyzers … would be available in a club or bar," he said. Hughes adds that such rules would be only for establishments that primarily serve alcohol and not for restaurants that mainly serve food.
The idea is "to let patrons know where their limit is at. If you drive on a road and see a speed limit sign, you have something in your car [a speedometer] to know how fast you're going," he said. "Especially young people at 21 or 22 ... might not know where their blood-alcohol level is at. It's a good way to know what's going on before you get into a car and operate it."
He added, "It is not illegal to drink in the state of Utah. It's not illegal to drink and operate a vehicle. It is illegal to drink to a point that your blood-alcohol level is .08 or higher" and drive.
"I think it will step up public safety," Hughes said. "It'll give people better information to make decisions and hopefully people will make the right decisions."
He said bars and clubs are pushing back against the idea of mandatory breathalyzers, so he is looking at perhaps encouraging it by allowing the presence of a breathalyzer to lower any fines for any code violation or require them only in places that have had repeated violations.
He said he hopes to have a bill ready for introduction next week. "I will do this in cooperation with stakeholders. It won't be a heavy handed bill."
Hughes noted that personal breathalyzers are becoming more common, and he has even seen them sold on key chains. "Maybe this legislation will be outdated in a number of years," he said. "The idea that you can start to measure that on your own is becoming a more common technology."
Hughes said he is also figuring ways to shield businesses that offer the breathalyzers from liability for being sued if someone failed a breathalyzer test and drove a car anyway.
Utah's hospitality industry has long complained that it loses business because tourists and convention organizers see its liquor laws as strange, including the Zion Curtain to prevent restaurant patrons from seeing drinks being mixed. Does Hughes think his bill would add to that? "We're Utah. People make fun of us," he joked.
Just before the Legislature convened this year, the LDS Church issued a statement and video defending the state liquor laws and warned against liberalizing them. Apostle D. Todd Christofferson said the laws have helped to reduce such things as drunken driving in the state.