Minnesota reduces blood-alcohol limit from 0.10 to 0.08

Greg Hestness said there have been 182 DWIs in the last year on campus.

Elizabeth Cook

Starting Aug. 1, the legal blood alcohol concentration level for driving a vehicle in Minnesota went from 0.10 to 0.08.

Kathy Swanson, the director of the Office of Traffic Safety for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said Minnesota was the last state to pass the lower blood alcohol concentration level.

“Most of the rest of the world is 0.08 or lower,” Swanson said. “The important thing is we’ve passed it.”

The new level was set to 0.08 because all drivers’ skills are impaired at that level, which means they shouldn’t be on the road, Swanson said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s traffic safety office, a driver’s reaction time, visual function, information processing and judgment are impaired at 0.08. If the 0.08 law had been in place for the last five years, the public safety department estimates that 70 lives and $70 million would have been saved.

In Minnesota from 1999-2003, out of the 3,131 traffic fatalities, 1,145 of them were alcohol related. The state has spent approximately $3.2 billion as a result of traffic fatalities, and $1.2 billion was because of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

Sean McDermott, an information officer for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said the average person getting pulled over for a DWI is not right around the legal limit. Most are actually around 0.16, he said.

“We don’t expect there to be any added DWI arrests (with the 0.08) but a reduction in crashes,” McDermott said.

Greg Hestness, University police chief, said there have been 182 DWIs in the last year on campus. The year before, there were 146 DWIs.

“Enforcement was up in 2004-05 over the previous year,” Hestness said.

Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University police, said there have been 182 driving while intoxicated arrests in the last year on campus. That number does not include underage drinking and driving or any arrests that the Minneapolis Police Department has made at the University.

Johnson said the 0.08 limit might increase the number of people charged with driving while intoxicated, but it won’t change the number of stops.

DWIs come from other traffic enforcement, Johnson said. A person doesn’t have to be all over the road to be pulled over and to receive a DWI, he said.

For example, Johnson said, an officer might pull a person over for rolling through a stop sign and then smell alcohol on his or her breath.

Ellie Church, a University student and the youth coordinator for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said it’s a misperception that the 0.08 level is too low. Alcohol begins to affect people at 0.02.

Church said she believes a lower blood alcohol limit will cause people to be more cautious of how much they drink.

University student Burak Ozkosem said the lower limit is a good thing, especially in the Twin Cities.

University student Matt Thibodeau also said the new legal limit is “reasonable.”