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Valentine: Too soon to say whether blood alcohol limit should be lowered

Published: Wednesday, May 15 2013 3:15 p.m. MDT

Senator John L. Valentine speaks to the senate as Utah Legislators meet Friday, March 25, 2011. Valentine said Wednesday it's too soon to say whether he will sponsor a bill next session lowering the blood alcohol level for impaired driving.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. John Valentine, the legislator behind most of the recent changes to Utah's liquor laws, said Wednesday it's too soon to say whether he will sponsor a bill next session lowering the blood alcohol level for impaired driving.

"The recommendation just came out yesterday," the Orem Republican told reporters after an interim legislative meeting that included a review of the state's actions on alcohol regulation but no discussion of the proposed new limit.

"We are always willing to look at that balance between the public safety side and the hospitality side. Whether this would be something we would put in the mix or not, gosh it's way too early to say that," Valentine said.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended Tuesday that all states lower the blood alcohol limit for drivers from 0.08 to 0.05, the same level used to determine impaired driving in more than 100 countries, including much of Europe.

Valentine said he was interested in the impact the limit has had elsewhere.

"It looking like, at least the European experience, it has had the effect of reducing the traffic fatalities and DUI accidents. If that is something that is important, I think that's something we ought to look at," he said.

Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said the reduced limit is being studied by the organization.

"There's more research to be done. Our concern is we're making criminals out of our patrons," Sine said. She said it's not clear the change would reduce alcohol-related accidents, since most result from higher levels of consumption than the current limit.

During the Business and Labor Interim Committee meeting, Valentine offered a review of past changes to the state's liquor laws, including doing away in 2009 with private clubs that restricted access to customers who purchased a membership.

He said that since the change, there have been increases in the numbers of fatal accidents involving excessive blood alcohol levels as well as underage customers gaining access to alcohol in restaurants.

"We are paying a higher social cost," Valentine said, calling the increases troublesome.

Sine said restaurants are being told to "make it a habit" to check the ID of anyone who looks 35 years old or younger when alcohol is ordered. She said many of the violations are occurring because servers are not checking ID immediately.

"Because it's on the increase, we're more involved," Sine said, displaying a flier distributed to restaurants reminding workers "Minors Matter" and that the fine for underage service is $1,000.

"We want to see our industry have zero violations." Sine said. "Our interests are the same. We don't want to see our future customers killed on the highways."

Valentine also said some have tried to "vilify" a recent change requiring new restaurants to pour alcoholic drinks out of sight of customers by referring to the mandatory structure blocking the view as a "Zion wall" or "Zion curtain."

In the 2013 Legislature, an attempt to do away with the wall by Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, failed. Wilcox told the committee Wednesday he is not convinced separating customers from alcohol protected the public.

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

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