Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a bill into law that lowers the maximum blood alcohol limit for drivers to .05 percent from the current legal threshold of .08 percent — giving Utah the strictest drunken driving law in the nation.
In addition to drivers, the law applies to anyone carrying a dangerous weapon.
Lowering the limit has been controversial, pitting opponents in the tourism and hospitality industry against backers in the health and transportation fields. As member station KUER's Julia Ritchey reports, "The governor's office has been inundated with hundreds of calls on the bill, most of them in opposition."
NPR's Allison Aubrey reports for our Newscast unit:
"The American Beverage Institute opposes the measure. The industry says a 120-pound woman can reach .05 with little more than one drink. The group argues that at that level, a driver is less impaired than a driver talking hands-free on a cell phone.
"But some public health experts have pushed for stricter limits. As recently as last year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all states drop blood alcohol levels down to .05, to deter more people from drinking and driving."
The law also has repercussions for people who carry guns in Utah. The state allows the open carry of dangerous weapons without a permit — but it restricts that right based on the blood alcohol maximum set for drivers.
That connection prompted the Utah Shooting Sports Council to send an alert to its members, urging them to ask Herbert to veto the bill and avoid an "ugly hidden Easter egg for gun owners," as it said on its Facebook page.
"Apparently the legislature never saw the connection between this bill and gun rights, and as such, this issue was never debated," the group says, in a form letter it provided to supporters to send to the governor.
Despite being signed, there will likely be more arguments over the new law, which isn't scheduled to take effect until Dec. 30, 2018.
Even as he signed the bill Thursday, Herbert said the state needs to re-examine at how it penalizes drivers who are over the limit. From KUER:
"There are some areas of improvement I think are warranted and are necessary," the governor 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.