Restaurants, bars and tourism officials say Utahns should not shy away from partying or eating out because of the state’s new toughest-in-the-nation drunken driving law when it takes effect in just over two weeks on Dec. 30.
They stress two reasons: The Utah Highway Patrol and police say the new law won’t change how they enforce DUI laws, with their focus on impairment rather than blood-alcohol levels; and Utah has plenty of ride-sharing and public transportation options to get people home safely if they drink too much.
“This law change needed a friendly voice,” said Jeremy Neigher, Utah marketing manager for Lyft. “It needed a friendly voice to say go out and enjoy everything Utah has to offer — just be smart about it.”
He is part of the new Enjoy Utah Responsibly coalition of groups from restaurants to law enforcement, tourism, transportation agencies and broadcasters. The alliance said Wednesday that it is launching an awareness campaign about the new law with billboards, radio ads, social media posts and banners in restaurants.
Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Mark Zesiger said at its news conference that many people mistakenly thought the law — which lowers the blood alcohol content for when drivers are legally drunk from 0.08 to 0.05 — took effect when the Legislature passed it last year, not realizing the delay in implementation.
“Our DUI squad definitely saw right after the law was passed an increase in the number of people who were using ride-share programs,” he said. “That’s a good thing. We’ll take that.”
That belief “hasn’t caused a problem” with business dropping at bars and restaurants, said Melva Sine, director of the Utah Restaurant Association. “So we don’t think it’s going to be a problem” when the law actually kicks in.
In fact, “Last year alone, downtown’s dining and wining … accounted for $388 million of revenue, and 43 percent of our total retail sales in Salt Lake,” said Samantha Julian, deputy director of the Downtown Alliance.
Zesiger said enforcement of drunken driving will not change much with the new law.
“We are going to continue to focus on impairment” and obvious signs that someone is not driving safely, he said.
“We sent all of our troopers back to training. Every one of them has been back to field sobriety testing to make sure what they do meets standards. We’ll continue to do what we’ve done, basically looking for those people who are impaired, whether from alcohol or drugs,” he said, adding other police agencies did the same.
Zesiger said the Highway Patrol over the past 18 months has been involved in testing to see how different numbers of drinks impair people differently.
“We’ve really found that the impairment level hasn’t changed. It depends on the individual person, body composition,” he said. “That’s why we really haven’t changed any of our standards or sobriety tests. We are focusing purely on impairment.”
The National Transportation Safety Board has warned that impairment can begin with as little as one drink and has recommended that states change to the 0.05 BAC standard adopted by Utah.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission released charts saying a 100-pound women could reach 0.05 with one drink (defined as 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor, 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine), while a 220-pound man would need three.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown urged, “If you are planning to drink, please drink responsibly — and have that plan, know how you are going to get home.”
He added, “It’s never been easier to get a ride share, to get a ride home.”
Neigher said that because of the new 0.05 DUI law, Lyft will offer $5 off on one right with the promo code ENJOYUT — and restaurants and bars will be promoting that.
Steve Meyer, interim executive director of the Utah Transit Authority, said, “Between UTA and Lyft, people have a convenient and safe way to travel around during the holidays” that helps improve air quality during inversions. “So leave the driving to us.”
Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, said there is no “excuse for Utahns not to get out and enjoy everything we have.”