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More “Possible Unintended Consequences” Of Utah’s New .05 DUI Law: Dram Shop Laws

Nicole Nixon

Utah Lawmakers continued discussions Wednesday about possibly changing a new law that lowers the legal limit to .05 blood alcohol content.

Despite continued opposition, state lawmakers have made it clear that the law, which gives Utah the lowest DUI limit in the country, is here to stay. On Wednesday, the legislature’s Transportation Interim Committee heard from representatives of the hospitality, tourism and insurance industries about its possible unintended consequences.

Dave Morris is president of the Utah Hospitality Association and owns four bars. He’s concerned about the state’s dram shop laws, which hold an establishment responsible for injuries and damage caused by a drunk driver. Morris says Utah has an extremely small market for liability insurance.

“It’s very expensive,” Morris said. “We’re strict liability, so the last place you had a drink, even one drink, and you go out and kill somebody, God forbid, it goes back to that business.”

Representatives from Utah’s tourism industries worry the law could hurt Utah’s image and play a role in businesses and workers deciding not to locate here.

They say it’s too soon to tell if it’s already had an effect, but they’re watching the numbers closely.

Rep. Norm Thurston wrote the controversial bill that was passed and signed into law earlier this year. He says after meeting with stakeholders, he’s identified a couple changes he’d like to make. One includes the state’s dram shop laws and availability of liability insurance.

“We want to take a look at those and see if there’s something that needs to be addressed,” Thurston told KUER, adding that “the gun lobbyists have concerns about the linking of the definition of intoxication between driving and gun possession.”

When asked about incorporating a lower penalty for someone convicted of a DUI below a .08 level, Thurston said he thinks the system is fine how it is.

Gov. Herbert initially said he would call a special session to address needed changes, but Thurston says he thinks any tweaks to the law can wait until the 2018 legislative session in January. The law goes into effect at the end of next year. 

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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