Clinton Signs .08 Drunk Driving Standard

ByTerence Hunt

W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 23, 2000 -- President Clinton, after a three-year strugglewith Congress, signed a bill today that would set a tough nationalstandard for drunken driving and, according to proponents, prevent500 highway deaths a year.

“For me this is a very good day for the United States,” thepresident said. He said the measure was “the biggest step totoughen drunk driving laws and reduce alcohol-related crashes sincethe national minimum drinking age was established a generationago.”

The new law requires states to implement a 0.08 percent bloodalcohol content standard as the legal level for drunken driving by2004. States that fail to impose that standard would begin losingmillions of dollars a year in federal highway funds.

The provision was tucked into a compromise $58 billiontransportation spending bill that was stuffed with pre-electionhighway, mass transit and aviation projects for every state.

Clinton said the 0.08 standard was a “common-sense nationwidelimit” that will save an estimated 500 lives a year and preventthousands of injuries.

Social Drinkers Penalized?

A 170-pound man could consume approximately four drinks in anhour on an empty stomach before reaching 0.08 limit, according toNational Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics cited byMothers Against Drunk Driving. A 137-pound woman could have threedrinks in an hour before reaching 0.08.

The president was joined in a Rose Garden ceremony by MillieWebb, national president of MADD, Transportation Secretary RodneySlater, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., andrepresentatives of highway safety, civic and health organizations.

Opponents of the 0.08 standard, including the restaurant andalcohol industries, say the measure would penalize social drinkerswhile ignoring the bigger problem of repeat offenders who drinkheavily.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have 0.08laws, and in Massachusetts a level of 0.08 is considered evidencebut not proof of impairment. Thirty-one states define drunkendriving as 0.10 percent blood alcohol content.

In 1999, 15,786 traffic deaths were attributed to drunkendriving, including more than 2,200 children.

Overwhelming Passage

Mothers Against Drunk Driving cites studies showing that adriver with 0.08 blood alcohol content is 11 times more likely tobe involved in a fatal collision than a sober driver.

The transportation bill’s overwhelming passage was fueled by itsscores of road, mass transit and aviation projects worth hundredsof millions of dollars for districts from coast to coast.

To accommodate that, the measure was $7.3 billion higher thanlast year’s level, $3.3 billion more than Clinton requested andnearly $3 billion larger than earlier versions passed by the Houseand Senate.

That made room for $1.97 billion for specific highway projectsthat neither the Senate or House had approved earlier, including$600 million for a federally owned Potomac River bridge outsideWashington, D.C.

There were also separate $100 million projects for WestVirginia, Alabama and Mississippi — home states, respectively, ofSen. Robert Byrd, top Democrat on the Senate AppropriationsCommittee; GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, chairman of the Appropriationstransportation subcommittee; and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

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