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Guest editorial

Utah takes lead in national DUI catch-22

Catch-22: a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape due to mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.

Whether you are a social drinker or a hardcore drunk, you are putting other peoples' lives in danger when you are on the road driving intoxicated. The current legal BAC (Breath Alcohol Content) limit in the U.S. is 0.08 percent. In many countries worldwide it is 0.05 percent. The NTSB says the risk of a crash at 0.05 percent is about half of that at 0.08 percent and has been recommending lowering the national BAC to 0.05 percent. It's curious why the legal limit hadn't been lowered years ago.

The alcohol industry must have as strong a lobby as the NRA.

Recently, however, Utah lawmakers are looking at this issue with a smart eye toward doing something that works. Governor Herbert wants to "tear down that wall," the legendary Wall of Zion, which calls for a seven-foot wall between the drink preparers and drinkers. This ridiculous, antiquated law, now in effect has absolutely no effect on the problem.

Utah lawmakers have also passed a 0.05 percent limit law that would make Utah the first state to adopt the lower BAC.

But what about the alcohol industry itself? What are they doing to help? Not much, really. No matter how many commercials with "drink responsible" tags they buy on prime-time sports television and no matter how heartfelt they appear in their sincerity to address the DUI problem, their job and mission is to sell as much booze as they can.

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Catch-22.

So, what to do?

Besides the Utah lawmakers' heroic efforts to lower the legal BAC, another Utah entity, a company, BreathAdvisor, has created an instant, breath-analysis system for checking a person's BAC before he gets on the road. Because now, the difference between a BAC of 0.08 percent and 0.05 percent can be devastating.

Here's the beauty of a system like BreathAdvisor. It's a kiosk unit set up in a bar or restaurant wherever alcohol is sold and served. The kiosks are touch screen interactive, anonymous, and will interface with a car service.

Underwriting sponsorship is available to brewers, spirits distillers, distributors, or any business whether it be alcohol-related or otherwise. Currently, in Utah, Miller/Coors has purchased sponsorships at all locations in the state.

This puts some credibility into their "please drink responsibly" message tag. Now, liquor companies can become functionally involved in the fight against drunk driving while building their market share and public image.

Utah lawmakers, in the past few years, have already proposed legislation that requires breathalyzers in bars and restaurants for the specific purpose of reducing DUI fatalities.

Just look at the safety awareness message this whole scenario sends to the general public, to America … to the parents of teens, to problem drinkers … the message is that the magnitude of the DUI problem is recognized and understood, that risk management is the focus, and that someone actually has a working idea toward a equitable course of action.

Although our national safety administrations and organizations, and most importantly, our lawmakers and enforcers, are contributing to the zero fatalities they propose to drunk driving, in my view it will be the alcohol industry … the brewers, distillers, the wholesale distributors and the serving establishments, and the drinkers themselves, who will have the greatest chance to make the biggest impact, and help to eradicate this continuing national heartache.

John Kushma is a communication consultant and lives in Logan, Utah.