In our opinion: Utah must fight for laws that drive the state in a safe direction

The American Beverage Institute, a Washington, D.C., based alcohol-lobbying group, shares the same motivation as the alcohol companies that fund it — maximizing alcohol consumption and by extension their profits.

Utah’s new DUI law, however, threatens those profits, so the American Beverage Institute has launched an ever more offensive campaign to change it.

Its latest play is to target lawmakers who voted for the legislation who are over 65, publishing their photographs and names in an advertisement that was even condemned by longtime critic of Utah’s conservative alcohol laws, Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis.

The Deseret News declined to run the advertisement due to the personal nature of the attack. In addition to photographs of lawmakers like Gov. Gary Herbert, the advertisement claimed research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that those above the age of 65 are “more impaired ANY TIME they drive than (alcohol) consumers at Utah’s DUI arrest level of .05 BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration).”

Aside from the dubious nature of the claim — we could not find any specific study making this claim online, and the advertisement did not include a specific citation — the logic of the American Beverage Institute argument seems to be that people who are 65 and older have a heightened level of impairment greater than those impaired at Utah’s DUI arrest level, therefore Utah should change its DUI law.

Yet a significant body of research cited by the National Transportation Safety Board shows that unsafe impairment begins even before consumers reach the .05 percent BAC limit. By .05 percent BAC, “the majority of studies” show impairment that could put other drivers at risk.

This research is why the National Transportation Safety Board recommended adopting a .05 percent BAC limit, and it's why it estimates the law could save hundreds of lives if broadly adopted.

So, if people 65 and older drive more impaired than someone at the .05 limit simply by virtue of their age — as dubious as that claim may be — the Beverage Institute's solution is to raise the DUI level so, evidently, those same (already impaired seniors) can then compound their impairment with added alcohol impairment beyond the .05 percent limit.

Meanwhile, as those in the alcohol industry look to ramp up consumption in Utah, it’s those who wind up in the hospital or dead from drunk drivers who pay the price.

The conversation around impairment behind the wheel should never be fodder for a cutesy advertising campaign. Not when so many families and individuals still suffer the consequences of people's decision to drink and drive.

This conversation deserves sober analysis because the sobering reality is that every year lives are lost and families are devastated by drunk driving. Last year, Utah's roads were the deadliest in a decade. The state must fight for policies like the new DUI law that will drive Utah in a better direction.

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