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Utah’s Lower BAC Legislation Continues to Be Met with Resistance

In March, Utah governor Gary Herbert signed into law the strictest drunk driving limits in the country. Now, members of the state’s hospitality and tourism industries are reacting to the tightening of restrictions with outrage and concern.

The bill lowers the blood alcohol limit allowable when operating a motor vehicle to .05%. Prior to this bill, the limit had been set at .08%, which is the standard in other states — although the punishment in Oregon would not be the same as Florida.

There was a great deal of pushback from a number of people, all calling to request the governor to veto the bill. The resistance came not only from the tourism and hospitality industries but also the gun lobby, which was affected by a provision lowering the BAC limit of carrying a gun to .05 as well.

But in the mind of the Gov. Herbert, his decision came down to one thing: Was the bill, named House Bill 115, a 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 a good policy,” Herbert said in new conference at KUED. “And that this new policy will, in fact, save lives.”

Late June, however, industry groups gathered to warn a panel of state lawmakers that the fledgling restriction would be anathema to tourists who already view the state as unfriendly to those who drink alcohol, in part due to the state’s high concentration of Mormons.

“People are not drunk at 0.05. They are sober at 0.05,” Sarah Longwell, who is the managing director of the national restaurant group, the American Beverage Institute, said, according to CBS Sacramento.

The reason why hospitality industry professionals are worried is simple — alcohol sales represent one of the most profitable revenue streams for restaurants and lounges.

The restaurant industry sees $783 billion in sales each year, but few businesses see a substantial profit. That is because the costs of operating a restaurant are much higher than other types of business. The cost of the raw goods typically account for 40% to 50% of the list price, and that does not take into account the employee to prepare the food, the server to sell it, and the rent or mortgage the restaurant pays.

One of the best ways that restaurants increase their revenue is through beverage sales. The average markup on a glass of wine is 300%; for a cocktail it’s 500%. For draft beer, the markup is even higher at 600%. While these numbers might seem high, they, in effect, offset the low-profit margins of food in restaurants.

And while the law is set to go into effect on December 30, 2018, there is no doubt opposition will continue.

“Over 77 percent of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Utah are caused by people with BACs of .15 and above, and the average BAC of someone in a fatal crash is .20—well over twice the legal limit,” Longwell said to Fox 13. “Utah legislators missed an opportunity to target the hard-core drunk drivers who cause the vast majority of drunk driving fatalities and instead decided to criminalize perfectly responsible behavior.”