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Utah gears up to implement nation’s lowest DUI limit

SALT LAKE CITY — New Year’s Eve revelers in Utah could find themselves with more than a hangover as 2019 dawns. If they drink and drive, they could end up on the wrong side of the nation’s newest and lowest DUI threshold.

The 0.05 percent limit goes into effect Sunday, despite protests that it will punish responsible drinkers and hurt the state’s tourism industry by adding to the reputation that the predominantly Mormon state is unfriendly to those who drink alcohol. The state’s old limit was 0.08 percent, the threshold in most states.

For Utah lawmakers, the change is a safety measure aimed at encouraging people not to drive at all if they’ve been drinking.

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The change was easily approved in 2017 by the Legislature, which is mostly Mormon and mostly Republican, and signed into law by Governor Gary Herbert, also a Republican and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The religion teaches its members to abstain from drinking alcohol.

‘‘The vast majority of people nationwide think that if a person has been drinking they shouldn’t be driving,’’ said Representative Norm Thurston, a Republican who sponsored the measure.

The change means that depending on things such as food intake, a 150-pound man could be over the 0.05 limit after two beers in an hour, while a 120-pound woman could exceed it after a single drink in that time, according to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The National Transportation Safety Board also backs the change, and many in the hospitality industry worry that other states will follow suit. Utah was among the first to adopt the now-standard 0.08 threshold decades ago, and lawmakers in four states — Washington, Hawaii, Delaware, and New York — have floated measures to lower their DUI limit in recent years. None has passed.

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