Utah Governor Signs .05 BAC Legislation

Let me start by saying that the views expressed here are largely my own, as the Brewers Association does not have an official position on .05 BAC legislation as of this writing, and the board and membership have yet to have a robust discussion on the matter.

Despite hearing from over a thousand constituents, restaurant owners, brewers and the ski industry with requests that Governor Herbert pause on approving the .05 BAC legislation. He signed the bill today. Utah is the first state to approve moving from .08 to .05 as a single standard for driving under the influence.

Utah recently lost the Outdoor Retailer show due to action by the legislature, and this new law, which takes effect December 30, 2018, marks another black eye for the state. For business owners in the state who rely on tourism or just residents who like to have a beer with dinner, there will be less economic activity and you will likely go out less often. Are you going to fly to Utah, rent a car, go skiing and then go have an apres-ski beverage and meal out? Probably not.

One piece of this development I’ve been thinking about since the improbability of the law being passed became a probability and then a reality is how can beer lovers and the craft brewing community support the craft brewers and homebrewers in Utah. I don’t have any good answers yet, but the companies will face challenges, and homebrew clubs will need to be very careful at their meetings. I have an Epic Brewing “Escape to Colorado” beer in my fridge. I think I’ll drink that tonight. When I visit Nevada next week, I’ll seek out a beer from one of the fine breweries of Utah.

I credit the American Beverage Institute for providing excellent leadership on providing information that made me stop and consider all sides to this issue–safety, freedom, economics, emotions. Sarah Longwell of the Institute points out that a little more than 12 ounces of beer for a 120-pound woman is enough to put that woman over .05. Is she drunk and a menace to society? I also recognize the Utah Brewers Guild and the beer activists in Utah who made their opinions known to the governor. He had announced that he would sign the bill, and after a 2-week delay, that’s exactly what he did.

I think of the police officers who will have to enforce the new law. There is a difference among someone at .08 BAC and .05 BAC. How much time will be lost from other enforcement priorities while officers try to ascertain the BAC of someone not visibly intoxicated.

Advocates say “well, some countries in Europe have .05.” These countries also have a legal drinking age of 16 or 18 in many cases. They also have a two-tiered system where the .05 is an administrative penalty and a higher level such as .08 or .11 becomes a criminal penalty. Even the leading advocate for .05, James Fell of the National Opinion Research Center, who pressures government agencies to adopt anti-alcohol positions, was only advocating for administrative penalties below .08.

On the agency side, the National Traffic Safety Board, whose primary responsibility is to investigate airplane crashes, stepped out of their box in 2013 to advocate for .05 legislation even though we were all told by the advocates who got .08 tied to highway funding that the science is right at .08. The Center for Disease Control lost all credibility with me when it recommended last year that women of child-bearing age who are not on birth control should not drink alcohol. Yikes!

Also on my mind is the way rideshare companies will benefit from the new law. In chain restaurants, Mike Ginley of Next Level Marketing shows that people who use a rideshare to get home request an average of 3.5 drinks per visit, which is over 1 more than they enjoy when drinking moderately before getting behind the wheel.

No one wants to see someone intoxicated get behind the wheel. The average BAC for a drunk driver involved in a fatal accident is .19 BAC, nearly four times the .05 level. The problem is clearly hardcore and repeat offenders who will attempt to drive drunk no matter what the law says. While an officer is detaining a citizen trying to determine if someone is .04 or .05, will they miss the person at .20 who they otherwise could have stopped?

Prohibition failed because people did not want a total restriction on alcohol. No one wants drinkers to abuse alcohol. So why are we targeting responsible enjoyment of alcohol in moderation? That path will fail us again and create far more problems than it solves.

You know, I was feeling pretty good this morning when I read about a 13-year study of nearly 2 million drinkers and how there are many benefits from moderate drinking.

 

Paul Gatza is the director of the Brewers Association (BA), a not-for-profit trade association whose purpose is to promote and protect American craft brewers and American craft beer and the community of brewing enthusiasts. Paul is a member of the association’s Brewpubs, Technical, Communications, Market Development, PR & Marketing and Government Affairs Committees. Paul’s origin in the beer community started when he took up homebrewing in 1990. He worked on the bottling line at Boulder Beer and would sneak over to the brewhouse when opportunity allowed. He owned a pair of homebrew supply shops in Boulder and Longmont, Colorado from 1994 to 1998. He served as director of the American Homebrewers Association for 7 years and is in his 17th year as Brewers Association director. Paul is ranked as a National Beer Judge by the Beer Judge Certification Program. Paul is also a former judge director of both the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup, before moving to the judge panels for these elite competitions.

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