It's not illegal to drink in Utah. It's not illegal to drink and operate a vehicle. It is illegal to drink to the point where your blood-alcohol level is .08 or higher and drive —House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper

SALT LAKE CITY — Along with the usual assortment of alcohol, Utah bars and taverns would also have to stock a breathalyzer machine for drinkers to test their blood-alcohol level under a proposal being floated at the Legislature.

The idea is to let patrons, especially young people who might not be aware of their limits, know how much alcohol they've consumed before they decide to get behind the wheel of a car, said House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper.

"I just think it makes sense. I think it's going to make for patrons of these clubs and bars to be better informed before they make decisions," Hughes said. "It's a public safety issue that I think is going to make things better."

The proposal would not require bar patrons to use the machines.

"It's not illegal to drink in Utah. It's not illegal to drink and operate a vehicle. It is illegal to drink to the point where your blood-alcohol level is .08 or higher and drive," he said.

Hughes, who is still drafting the bill, said he initially wanted to mandate breathalyzer machines in all establishments — other than restaurants — that serve alcohol. But he said he's getting some pushback from industry representatives.

Instead, Hughes said he's thinking about making it voluntary unless a bar is cited for alcohol violations, then it would be required. He also said having a breathalyzer could be a mitigating circumstance for a bar that receives a citation. Either way, the establishment would have to buy the machine.

Hughes said he doesn't want to increase liability for clubs and bars because they would resist the idea if that were the case. He said it needs to be a practical solution that's not heavy-handed.

Some Utah establishments already have breathalyzers that look much like vending machines. For $2, patrons can test their blood-alcohol level.

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Casey Staker, owner and general manager of Zest Kitchen & Bar in Salt Lake City, said the machine gets used often, including by some who check their level while having a couple of drinks during dinner.

"I don't think it's a bad idea at all," Staker said. "I would appreciate it if it were in an establishment where I was drinking."

Staker said he doesn't think breathalyzers should be used as punishment, but as a tool for people to know their limit and keep from driving drunk and getting into accidents.

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