The American Beverage Institute placed a full-page ad in Tuesday’s Idaho Statesman cautioning Idahoans against visiting Utah.
Why? Because of the state’s new law imposing a .05 blood alcohol threshold — which doesn’t even take effect until Dec. 30, 2018.
So it begins.
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California is the only state that sends more tourists to Utah than Idaho, which is why the beverage institute chose to place Tuesday’s ad in the Statesman. It wanted to get Utah’s attention before Gov. Gary Herbert calls a special session of the Legislature this summer.
“Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation,” the ad blares.
And just to make sure nobody misses the point, the ad features a young woman in a booking photo holding a placard that says, “Crime: Had one drink with dinner.”
Utah is the first state to implement a .05 BAC. Critics say a 120-pound woman could exceed the threshold after a single drink.
Herbert and his Republican supermajority don’t care. They call it a safety issue.
Which would be valid if drunk driving had finished higher than eighth in the state’s 2016 Fatal Crash Summary.
Drunk driving claimed 33 lives on Utah roads in 2016 — 11.8 percent of the year’s traffic fatalities.
Meanwhile, speeding killed 104 people, or 37.1 percent of 2016’s total deaths; failure to use seat belts killed 80, or 28.6 percent; and older drivers killed 49, or 17.5 percent.
So if Utah lawmakers wanted to make the state’s roads significantly safer, they would’ve concentrated on enforcing speed limits, improving seat belt usage, and monitoring elderly drivers as their skills deteriorate.
Instead, they decided to lower the BAC limit from .08 to .05, which threatens not only the state’s restaurants and bars, but also its $8 billion tourism industry.
“Time for Idahoans to rethink their vacation plans,” the beverage institute ad suggests.
Given that they can ski, snowboard, hunt, fish and hike in any number of Western states with saner alcohol laws, they probably will.
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So will Californians.
While the Legislature cripples our restaurants and bars from within, Western states will strangle Utah tourism from the outside.
Suddenly, it won’t be so tough finding a parking spot Saturday nights on 25th Street in downtown Ogden. Even better? The slopes won’t be nearly as crowded with all those pesky tourists from California, Idaho, Nevada and Washington, carving up our pristine powder.
Utah lawmakers knew the economic risks, but in the end, only one thing mattered to them — tightening their control on alcohol consumption.
They’re already starting to pay the price, and Dec. 30, 2018, is still 20 months away.