Park City tourism industry concerned new DUI law, set to go into effect, could deter visitors
Locals and visitors in Utah can still eat, drink and be merry over the holidays, but they will be discouraged to get behind the wheel if they have had an alcoholic beverage or two.
Utah’s new DUI law, which reduces the blood-alcohol content threshold for driving from 0.08 to 0.05, is set to go into effect on Dec. 30. As the deadline approaches, leaders in the Park City tourism industry worry the change might turn away visitors. Utah will be the only state in the nation with the 0.05 DUI limit.
Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said he has already received one email from a former Park City guest who is choosing not to visit the town as a direct response to the law.
“They felt as though this criminalizes normal social behavior,” he said.
But, Malone said, that was the only guest he has heard say the law is discouraging them from visiting Park City. He hopes the new law will not sway others but said the impact remains to be seen.
Regardless, there is not much the Chamber/Bureau or others can do. Due to opposition to the law, passed in 2017, two bills were proposed during Utah’s legislative session earlier this year that would have delayed implementation of the change. One would have made the law effective only if three other states also passed laws lowering the blood-alcohol threshold to 0.05. Both of them failed.
Max Doilney, owner and operator of the Corner Store Pub and Grill near Park City Mountain Resort, said he might feel differently about the bill if other states were following Utah’s lead. As it is, he is upset about the change.
“Nobody wants drunk drivers, but why does Utah have to be the leader?” he said. “Every time one of these super restrictive laws comes out, we are putting it out there first.”
He said what irks him most about the law is the regularity with which Utah liquor laws change.
“We have guests coming year after year and consistently we hear, ‘What is the law? What is going on?’” he said. “To me, it just looks really bad.”
Every day, he said, a guest asks what the liquor laws are in Utah. It is a turn-off when guests have to constantly be aware of shifting laws, Doilney said.
The new low threshold also puts his establishment in an uncomfortable situation, he said.
“It’s almost impossible to tell if somebody is leaving your establishment over a 0.05 limit,” he said. “We pretty much have to tell everybody that takes a sip, you can’t drive. Please call an Uber. We are put in a position where we sort of have to be police officers when all we are doing is trying to run a business.”
Luckily, Doilney and Malone said, there are several options for people who are not getting behind the wheel after a night out. They can use public transportation or a ride-share service. Malone said Park City visitors are utilizing those methods more anyway.
“More and more of our guests are coming here by cab or private vehicle or van and are learning that you really don’t need a car as much when you are here. They can get where they need to go with public transport,” he said.
Malone still worries what the law will do to public perception, though. He said Utah already has a negative reputation when it comes to strict liquor laws, which causes misconceptions about the ability to drink in Utah.
“We’ve always had a challenge with alcohol and perception about that,” he said.
He is hopeful visitors will look beyond the law and see what else Park City has to offer when booking their vacation. Doilney is holding onto that idea as well.
“I think it will affect tourism maybe, but all the other elements that Park City brings sort of mitigate any negative effects like that,” Doilney said.
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