Utah will ring in the New Year with the nation’s toughest DUI law

Posted at 4:21 PM, Dec 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-25 22:44:20-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah will ring in the New Year with the nation's toughest anti-drunk driving law.

On Dec. 30, the blood alcohol level will be lowered from .08 to .05.

"It's been a long time coming and it's going to be good for the state of Utah," Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said in an interview Monday with FOX 13. "It's going to reduce the number of people who choose to drive after drinking. It's also going to reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths. All of that is a good thing."

But some restaurants and tourism hotspots are bracing for a drop in business.

"It's going to affect responsible drinkers," said Michele Corigliano, the executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association. "That means they will be taking Lyft, just like the legislators want. It's going to add $30 to their night and they're going to go out less often. Instead of going out two nights a week, they're going to go out one night a week."

Corigliano said they absolutely do not condone drunk driving, but do worry the new law sends an inhospitable message to tourists and adds to the perception that Utah has strange liquor laws.

"We want this to be a welcoming place to all people," she said.

Some drinkers FOX 13 spoke with on Monday said the new law would change what they typically do.

"I'm not going to be able to drive as much or go anywhere anymore," said Victor Sanchez. "You can't go out to a restaurant and enjoy a beer because you're going to get pulled over real quick."

Rob Erickson said he doesn't drive at all if he's drinking, but called the new law "unfair."

"Point oh five, it's less than impaired in most places," he said. "It seems like a way to get revenue or punish people for drinking in general."

Visit Salt Lake and other tourism and hospitality groups have launched a campaign called "Enjoy Utah Responsibly," which urges people to keep going out to restaurants, bars and nightclubs, but to get a rideshare or take transit. Lyft has partnered with them to offer a discount code as the .05 DUI law goes into effect.

Get the Lyft .05 DUI rideshare code here

The Utah Highway Patrol has said the new law will not change what they do, because impaired driving is the legal standard that gets someone pulled over.

While SLARA previously said it didn't intend to fight the .05 DUI law, Corigliano told FOX 13 on Monday her group's restaurant members do want some modifications. She said they will push the Utah State Legislature to implement a tiered punishment system (for example, .05 to .08 would be one level of criminal punishment, .08 and above would be another). Corigliano said restaurant members are feeling the impact of liquor laws and that affects the multi-billion dollar tourism industry.

"We have a legislature full of Republicans," she said. "Republicans want smaller government. Yet every single year, they are choosing the hospitality industry which are the ones that cater to our tourism. They're the ones that are going to be suffering."

Rep. Thurston said he believed fears of harm to tourism were overblown. While Utah is the first state to go to .05, he told FOX 13 we won't be the last. Lawmakers from Hawaii to New York had contacted him to ask for information about the new law.

"I've been contacted by probably close to a dozen states that are looking at opportunities," Rep. Thurston said. "How they would do it, what it would look like in their states. And they're in various stages of proposals and bill drafts. We'll see who's next."