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Utah proposal could prompt bars to put up blood alcohol testing devices such as Breathalyzers

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SALT LAKE CITY - 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 could pop up in more bars across Utah under a coming proposal from Draper Republican Rep. Greg Hughes. The measure is still incubating, but it aims to cut down on drunk driving in Utah.

"It makes good sense," he said Friday.

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

The measure won't require any bar to install the testing devices, he said, but it would ensure businesses aren't held responsible for customers who fail a breath test but decide to drive anyway.

Some bar owners hesitate to back the measure, questioning how well the devices read the level of alcohol circling the bloodstream.

The devices can cost as much as $1,000. To date, nightspots that have such meters generally affix them to walls and charge about $2 for a reading, and patrons often wander over for a laugh.

Hughes said his plan would make using the machines optional for drinkers, and police would not gain access to any data collected.

Bob McCarthy owns the Garage on Beck, a Salt Lake City bar on a stretch of highway lined with chain fences and smoke stacks. McCarthy on Friday morning questioned 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.

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

The most recent data available show that in 2010, drunk driving accounted for about 30 per cent of all traffic deaths nationwide. In Utah, that percentage hovered around 10 per cent during the same year. Utah DUI arrests have dipped in recent years, but lawmakers say the state should do more to prevent those numbers from climbing again.

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

"It's not illegal to drink in the state of Utah," Hughes told reporters earlier in the week. "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."

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