Gov. Gary Herbert signed a DUI bill that hurts Utah. Now we're stuck with it

Thursday , November 02, 2017 - 4:30 AM6 comments


This is what happens when you sign a bad bill — a bill that threatens to wreck Utah’s tourism industry.

You hurt Utah.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill lowering the state’s legal blood alcohol threshold from .08 to .05, the lowest in the nation.

  • RELATED: “Herbert signs .05 BAC limit, giving Utah the strictest DUI threshold in US”

It might as well be 0. After more than a drink or two, you’re over Utah’s limit as of Dec. 30, 2018.

Travelers and tourists spent $8.4 billion in Utah last year, according to a 2017 report from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. Tourism and travel created 85,000 jobs in 2016, making it the eighth-largest industry in Utah.

The 2016-2017 ski season set a record with 4.6 million skier days. A record 10.1 million people visited Utah’s five national parks.

Those visitors don’t just come to Utah for the skiing, snowboarding, hiking, bicycling and hiking. They come here to eat, drink and shop after they’ve enjoyed the outdoors.

Now they don’t need Utah — not when you can ski or hike in a nearby state with a .08 BAC threshold.

Utah’s tourism industry begged Herbert not to sign the bill. So did the state’s hospitality industry. So did many everyday Utahns. He signed it anyway, arguing the law would save lives and legislators could fix its “unintended consequences.”

  • RELATED: “Survey: Utah high school seniors are drinking more alcohol”

Unintended consequences. Like driving tourists to Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and California.

Unintended consequences. Like kneecapping an $8 billion industry.

First things first.

Utah reduced drunk driving deaths by nearly 11 percent between 2015 and 2016 without adopting the nation’s first .05 DUI law. In the state’s 2016 fatal crash summary, drunk driving finished as the eighth-leading cause of death (33), far behind speeding (108) and failure to use seat belts (80).

If lawmakers truly wanted to save lives, they’d invest in technology and staffing to reduce speeding. They’d focus on improving seat belt usage.

A .05 BAC won’t make Utah’s roads appreciably safer. But it will hurt the economy.

Because state law enforcement officials and Herbert disagree over softening penalties for .05 violations, and in late October, the Utah Substance Use and Mental Health Advisory Council sided with police.

  • RELATED: “State council recommends no changes to Utah's new DUI law”

The board voted unanimously to support the new law, as is. As a result, adjusting the law to soften its impact on the ski industry, restaurants and bars just became much more difficult.

Talk about your unintended consequences.

Herbert tried to mollify everyone by signing a bad bill and promising to fix it. Now we’re stuck with a bad bill.

When Utah begins to lose tourism jobs and tax revenue, it’s Herbert who bears the biggest share of the blame.

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