A national restaurant association warned in a full-page Idaho Statesman newspaper ad on Tuesday that if Idahoans go to Utah on vacation, they may return on probation because of its new toughest-in-the-nation drunken driving law.
“I will tell you this is just the beginning of our campaign” to attack the law — which does not take effect for 20 months until Dec. 30, 2018 — and seek its repeal at a special session of the Legislature expected in late summer, said Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute.
She said the group’s new ad campaign started in Idaho, which sends the second-most tourists to Utah among the states, but will spread soon to others.
“Our goal is to educate people in states who have a high percentage of people who visit the state of Utah who could be potentially impacted by this law,” she said — hoping they will also join opposition to it.
Gov. Gary Herbert last month signed HB155 making Utah the first state to lower the blood-alcohol limit to be legally drunk while driving from 0.08 to 0.05 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). But he also plans a special session this summer to tweak it.
Herbert has said he would not oppose such things as perhaps creating lesser penalties for those arrested with a BAC of between 0.05 and 0.08 than for those with higher levels.
Also, he said he’s open to considering a proposal by some to allow three or four other states to enact a similar law first, and then follow, to lessen the likelihood of hurting tourism by being the first state to enforce the new limit.
The newspaper ad on Wednesday repeats similar ads that the organization ran earlier in USA Today and Utah newspapers before Herbert signed the bill.
It is titled, “Utah: Come for Vacation, Leave on Probation.” It features a mug shot of a woman holding a placard saying her crime was having “one drink with dinner.” The group contends that petite women could violate the .05 standard with one drink (studies say most men would require three drinks).
The ad says that Utah’s new law means that “as little as one drink with dinner before driving home could land you in jail. Time for Idahoans to rethink their vacation plans!”
Longwell said her group is waging the ad campaign because “other states are looking at Utah and what happens there, so we want to make sure that the Legislature takes a real careful look at this law and the science behind it.”
Hawaii and Washington considered similar laws this year, but did not pass them — leaving Utah as the vanguard for toughening such laws. Decades ago, Utah was also the first state to drop BAC levels to .08, which all other states eventually followed.
More than 100 other countries now have a .05 BAC. The National Transportation Safety Board has called for it, and says it will save lives — and testified twice for the bill at the Legislature. It says driving impairment begins with just one drink.
Still, Longwell said, “This bill that passed doesn’t make sense. It won’t save lives. It is a distraction from the real drunk driving problem,” arguing that only 1 percent of traffic fatalities involve a driver with a BAC between .05 and .08.
“I think it passed more for political reasons and anti-alcohol reasons than it did for actual safety reasons,” she said.
A poll released last month by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics showed that Utahns are evenly split on that new law. But the bulk of support comes from non-drinking “very active” Mormons, while all other religious categories overwhelmingly oppose it — even “somewhat active” Mormons.