Tourism officials right to be wary of Utah’s DUI law
The Park Record editorial, July 15-18, 2017
July 14, 2017
Like many alcohol-related measures the Utah Legislature has cracked open over the years, the law it passed this spring to drop the DUI threshold to the lowest mark in the country is not going down so smoothly in areas of the state that rely heavily on tourism.
Throughout Utah, tourism and hospitality officials have expressed opinions ranging from concern to outrage about the measure, which will make it illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol content of 0.05 or higher when it goes into effect late in 2018. Some are worried it will hurt the bottom line of restaurants, because social drinkers will choose to order a Coca-Cola instead of a second gin and tonic at dinner. Others say it will encumber the tourism industry, which has spent years combatting the perception that our liquor regulations are strange and out of step with the rest of America.
In Park City, it's easy to see where the unease is coming from. The town, more than any other place in Utah, markets itself as a global destination, promising world-class amenities on par with anything visitors would find in Aspen, Colorado, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The ski resorts are the primary draw, but nearly as important is the message that skiers can retreat from a day on the slopes to an evening of revelry in the restaurants and bars lining Main Street.
Supporters of the measure say the fears surrounding the negative effect it could have are overblown. Ignoring the dubious evidence that the law would keep Utah's roads safer — studies show drivers well beyond the legal limit cause the vast majority of fatal crashes involving alcohol — it has already drawn nationwide attention.
The "There goes wacky, teetotalling Utah again" headlines have littered the internet, and the ads have written themselves. The American Beverage Institute — a lobbying group that has, it should be noted, obvious motivations for urging lawmakers to reverse their decision — debuted one shortly after the legislation passed that mocked the state as "a place to come for vacation and to leave on probation." The attacks have only become more withering since.
Officials in competing states like Colorado have wisely stayed out of the fray, but it's hard not to imagine them popping a cork at the prospect of visitors, already wary of Utah's reputation as a dry state, potentially ditching the Greatest Snow on Earth for the slopes of the Centennial State.
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Fortunately, it's not too late for lawmakers to revise the law. It's unlikely they'll scrap it altogether, but many in the tourism and hospitality industries are prodding them to adjust it by including a provision that drivers caught with blood-alcohol contents over 0.05 but under 0.08 face lighter penalties — perhaps a citation, instead of an arrest.
That seems like a reasonable solution, especially because other states, including Colorado, already have similar stipulations in their DUI laws.
Doubtless, many would have preferred the Legislature not monkey with the law in the first place, but at this point, it's a compromise Park City tourism officials and restaurateurs would drink to — as long as they don't get behind the wheel of a car after they've had more than one.
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