Dabakis has 2 cocktails before meeting to show lack of alcohol impairment, but it doesn’t sway votes to delay Utah’s tough new drunken driving law

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, seen here in the Senate chambers on Feb. 20.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said he had two cocktails before Thursday’s 8 a.m. legislative hearing to prove a point about alcohol consumption and the need to delay implementation of Utah’s tough new 0.05 drunken driving law.

“I went out and had breakfast and had two mimosas,” he told members of the Senate Transportation Committee, “and I feel perfectly fine.”

Dabakis said after his morning meal, he took a Breathalyzer test that showed his blood alcohol content (BAC) level was 0.05.

At that level, he and others would technically be drunk under a new state law that lowers the limit for drunken driving from 0.08 to 0.05. The law doesn’t take effect until Dec. 30, 2018.

When it kicks in, Utah will have the toughest DUI law in the nation.

Even though it would have been legal for him to drive after his two mimosas Thursday, Dabakis said he had a staff member drive him to the legislative hearing.

Under Dabakis’ proposed SB210, the law would not become effective until three other states adopted the 0.05 standard.

Dabakis said there were many reasons to delay implementation, including the lack of scientific evidence.


Delay the effective date of Utah's tough new 0.05 drunken driving law until three other state pass similar laws. - Read full text

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“This is not well thought out,” he said. “There may be a morality play here; I hope not. But we ought not lead the way until there is evidence that shows it saves lives.”

The committee tabled the bill 3-2, leaving it in limbo, after listening to Dabakis (who is a member of the committee) and several members of the public who were both for and against the proposal.

The move was expected. Last week, Gov. Gary Herbert told reporters the law will stand without major changes.

There is one more bill proposing that the 0.05 drunken driving law be delayed. Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, is sponsoring HB345, which would push implementation of the law until 2022.

In 1983, Utah and Oregon were the first two states to lower the BAC level to 0.08. It took seven years for any other state to follow suit, said Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, the author of the law that passed last year.

“If we had waited another seven years, we would have lost dozens of lives,” he told the committee. “If we think something is a good policy, we should lead out.”

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, pointed at that even though Utah has had record alcohol sales, the state’s tourism sector is up while highway fatalities are down.

“That’s not bad data,” he said. “We have to have the courage to do what it takes.”

Earlier in the session, lawmakers quickly rejected a bill proposing to ban use of hand-held cellphones while driving. Such a ban is popular with voters and backed by the Utah Highway Patrol. University of Utah research also has determined that distracted driving — such as using a phone behind the wheel — is as dangerous as drunken driving.