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Gov. Herbert Signs .05 Blood Alcohol Limit Bill, Strictest In US

Julia Ritchey, KUER
Gov. Gary Herbert discusess HB 155 during his monthly KUED news conference on March 23, 2017.

Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a bill that will lower Utah’s blood alcohol limit for driving from .08 to .05, making it the strictest in the nation.

The governor said his decision to support House Bill 155 came down to one question and one question only: Is it good policy?

“That’s my charge, is it good policy? And I’m here to announce, that after thorough analysis, that I believe it is it is good policy,” he said during his monthly news conference at KUED. “And that this new policy will, in fact, save lives.”

But there are caveats. Calling the legislation “unfinished,” the governor says he will call a special session later this summer for state lawmakers to address lingering issues, such as DUI penalties.

“There are some areas of improvement I think are warranted and are necessary,” he said. “And we can look at impaired driving and distracted driving and repeat offenders — those who in fact have been arrested for DUIs on multiple occasions — and our punishment, and what are the consequences of the punishment,” he said.

The governor’s office has been inundated with hundreds of calls on the bill, most of them in opposition. The legislation has drawn fire from the local restaurant and bar groups, as well as some lawmakers, who say it could hurt Utah’s tourism and hospitality industry.

Herbert said he’s seen no data that shows a negative impact to travel and tourism, and cited other countries in Europe like Germany, France and Italy that maintain a .05 limit.

The bill will not go into effect until December 30, 2018, though Herbert said he’s also open to delaying implementation.

[This story has been updated to reflect that Gov. Herbert has signed the legislation into law.] 

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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