Utah could put Breathalyzer-type devices in bars

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Bargoers weighing whether they're sober enough to take the wheel could soon have a tool to help make that decision.

Breathalyzers and similar devices would pop up in bars across Utah under a coming proposal from Draper Republican Rep. Greg Hughes. The measure is still incubating, he says, but it aims to cut down on drunk driving in Utah.

"It's not illegal to drink in the state of Utah," Hughes told reporters Thursday. "It's not illegal to drink and operate a vehicle" with an alcohol level below the legal cutoff. But, he added, "How does a consumer know where they're at, exactly? I think it makes sense."

Setting up the machines alongside pool tables and juke boxes would especially help younger drinkers, Hughes said, who are still learning their limits.

But it's unclear whether Hughes' forthcoming proposal would mandate the devices in each bar, or how businesses would deal with patrons who drive home even after the machines show they've had too much to drink. And some bar owners hesitate to back the measure, questioning how well the devices read the level of alcohol circling the bloodstream.

Hughes hasn't yet determined whether the devices would be required for all bars, or just those with infractions, such as serving underage drinkers. To date, night spots that have such meters generally affix them to walls, and patrons often wander over for a laugh.

Hughes is considering making it an incentive rather than requirement. And if customers decide to drive even though they've had too much to drink, he says, he doesn't want bars to be liable for that.

Either way, the devices would be optional for drinkers.

Robert McCarthy owns the Garage, a Salt Lake City bar on a stretch of highway lined with chain fences and smoke stacks. McCarthy questions the accuracy of the machines. If customers were to register a lower level of alcohol than they expected, he worries, it could embolden them to drive when they normally wouldn't.

"Somebody could feel they shouldn't be driving but the number says 0.08, which is right on the border, so maybe they'll go and they shouldn't go," he said Friday.

He advises customers, "just know how much you've had to drink and whether you're OK to drive."

Hughes says he hopes to have the bill ready next week.