Legal blood alcohol content to be .08 by 2004

by Erin Ghere

Many students can think of a night they shouldn’t have driven home but thankfully woke up safe in their beds.
But soon the last drink putting drivers over the legal edge will come a little earlier.
U.S. House and Senate negotiators agreed Wednesday on a provision requiring states to implement a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content limit by 2004.
Minnesota’s current limit is 0.10.
The two chambers will vote on the measure this week and President Clinton has already said the standard is a “common-sense nationwide limit.” The smaller limit will save an estimated 500 lives per year and prevent many more injuries, according to the administration.
“This is a tremendous win not only for those who have lost loved ones to drunk drivers, but for those whose families will remain safe before more drunk drivers will be off the road,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., one of the legislation’s chief sponsors.
In 1998, 15,935 traffic deaths nationally were attributed to drunken driving, or 38.4 percent of traffic fatalities. In Minnesota during the same years, 280 traffic deaths, or 43 percent of the total, were alcohol-related, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Peter Dimock, assistant teaching specialist in the University’s Alcohol and Drug Counseling Education Program, said the limit change was a good move.
He said although each individual’s alcohol tolerance is different, legislators must decide what’s reasonable to expect for the general population.
The lowered limit still allows someone to consume several drinks without becoming legally intoxicated, he added.
But the restaurant industry has argued the legislation does not address the real problem of hard-core and repeat drinking offenders.
Others disagree. Mothers Against Drunk Driving President Millie Webb said while there is no single solution to drunken driving, the provisions to lower the legal level “are among the most important measures proven to save lives on our roadways.”
Currently only 18 states and the District of Columbia have 0.08 laws, while nearly every other state issues drunken driving tickets when the driver has a 0.10 blood-alcohol content.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said Illinois has seen a 13.7 percent decline in fatal alcohol-related crashes since it implemented at 0.08 limit in 1997.
But John Doyle, spokesman for the American Beverage Institute, said drunken driving deaths were up 8 percent last year in Virginia, which also has a 0.08 limit.
Either way, Dimock said the two-hundredths of a percent is a margin of safety that matters.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected]