State liquor laws revised

Drunken driving law tightened; unfinished wine can be taken

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Significant changes to Colorado's liquor laws come into effect today, affecting how alcohol can be distributed and transported and how drunken driving is defined.

Beginning today, drivers can carry in their cars unfinished wine bottles opened at restaurants or hotels, and liquor stores can offer samples of wine, beer and spirits to customers.

At the same time, legislators toughened drunken driving standards. Drivers now are considered intoxicated if their blood-alcohol content is 0.08% or above, rather than the previous standard of 0.1%.

Though the new drunken driving threshold and the wine-bottle measure take effect today, city liquor stores won't be able to offer liquor tastings until the Steamboat Springs City Council develops rules to govern them, which may not happen until early August.

Employees at several liquor stores and restaurants and law officers said the changes will boost business and promote safety, but some are concerned the measures may encourage drunken driving.

The new state law, approved as House Bill 1021, expands the definition of drunken driving. Previously, drivers whose blood-alcohol content was 0.1% or above were considered intoxicated and could be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.05% to 0.1% could be charged with driving while ability impaired.

Under the new definition, however, a blood-alcohol content of 0.08% qualifies as intoxication. While the threshold for driving while ability impaired has not been lowered, as well, the new law reduces the threshold for being charged with DUI, a conviction for which carries stiffer penalties than the lesser charge, Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae said.

Legislators attached to House Bill 1021 a measure that allows drivers to carry an unfinished bottle of wine from a restaurant or hotel in their vehicles as long as the bottle has been recorked and is out of arm's reach. Until now, that was illegal in Steamboat because open-container laws prohibit having any unsealed alcohol containers in public.

Finally, the legislation permits liquor stores to give samples of beer, wine and spirits to customers at liquor tastings, if the stores' municipality chooses to allow it.

City Clerk Julie Jordan already has received three requests from liquor stores to have the liquor tastings, but the stores will not be able to do so until the city develops rules to govern them.

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