No changes likely for Utah’s controversial DUI law
After Utah’s contentious DUI bill passed during last year’s legislative session, hope remained among the restaurant and tourism industry that the law would change before going into effect in December this year. Near the close of this year’s session, that hope is gone.
The law that would make it illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol content of 0.05 or over will most likely be effective at the end of the year.
The bill already received negative attention from the lobbying organization American Beverage Institute during an ad campaign last year that said “Utah: come for vacation, leave on probation.” Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, worries that the bad publicity could taint Utah’s reputation as a prime destination.
“It will have an impact on places such as Park City,” he said. “(Alcohol) is part of the culinary experience and everything that we sell for people on vacation.”
During Utah’s legislative session this year, which is scheduled to end on March 8, two bills were written that would have delayed the implementation of the law. One, S.B. 210, suggested that Utah’s DUI law only go into effect if three other states pass laws with the same blood alcohol level. The bill was tabled in committee and is unlikely to gain further traction..
The other, H.B. 345, would have delayed the implementation until Dec. 30, 2022. A motion to recommend the bill failed in a 5 to 3 committee vote.
Malone said that the state already has a negative image that it is difficult to get alcohol. This new law will only reinforce that idea.
Hans Fuegi, former owner of Grub Steak Restaurant and a member of the Utah Restaurant Association’s liquor task force, agreed.
“The state already has challenges when it comes to liquor laws,” he said. “For the industry, I don’t see anything positive about it.”
He said that it is hard to know the depth of the law’s effect on tourism, but he said that it is likely to be a consideration for people planning their vacations.
Fuegi said that restaurants and bars will need to get creative as they experiment with ways to help their guests find rides home. He said that it could be beneficial if fewer people are driving on Main Street, which has limited parking, but for those who are dining out of the city, getting transportation home could be a hassle.
Some restaurant owners, however, are less apprehensive about the effect the law will have on tourism.
Christopher Lutz, general manager of Red Rock Brewery in Kimball Junction, said that so many tourists use shuttles, cabs and ridesharing that he is not too concerned about the lower DUI threshold.
“How many people are really driving around?” he said. “Most of the people I’m getting from the hotels are coming in via shuttles. And with Uber being as cheap as it is, any reason you’re getting in your car and drinking is ridiculous.”
He said that he understands that some people might consume less when they go out, but added that he does not think that will make too much of a difference.
“Although it could have a negative impact on some tourist business, I think the majority of people are still going to travel here because of the quality and depth of the skiing experience we offer,” he said.
Greg Schirf, founder of Wasatch Brewery, said that the main problem with the law is how it compares to other ski destinations, such as those in Colorado, where the legal limit for drivers is 0.08 percent. Those who have a blood-alcohol content of 0.05 or above are considered to be driving with their ability impaired (DWAI) and could receive a penalty, but it is a misdemeanor.
“Colorado always has one up on us,” Schirf said. “If you are in the tourist business in Utah, whether it’s the restaurant business or the bar business or any business in Utah, you’ve just sent a large message to people around the world. If you want to come to Utah, do it at your own risk.”
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