Congress Passes New Drunk Driving Standard

ByABC News
October 6, 2000, 6:42 PM

Oct. 6 -- The United States is closer to having a lower drunken driving standard.

The new proposal is part of a $58 billion transportation bill passed today by the House and Senate that would cut highway funds for states that do not adopt a .08 percent blood alcohol standard.

The House approved the massive measure by 344-50, and minutes later the Senate gave it final legislative approval by 78-10.

Advocates say the new measures will help save 500 lives a year.

We are elated, said Millie Webb, national president for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The members of Congress were able to see how important this is.

But the hospitality industry, which lobbied against the measure, argued that people with an .08 level are not responsible for most drunk driving accidents.

According to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 71 percent of drivers involved in fatal alcohol-related auto crashes had a blood alcohol level of .12 or higher.

States React

Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia have 0.08 laws, and in Massachusetts a level of 0.08 is considered evidence but not proof of drunkenness.

Many of the 31 states that still define drunken driving as 0.10 percent blood alcohol content have begun to reconsider the laws.

Wisconsin one of the states with the higher standards could lose $90 million in federal highway aid through 2007 and about $36 million a year after that if it refuses to adopt a tougher drunken driving standard.

Linda Thelke, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsins transportation department, said states not adhering to the new blood-alcohol standard of 0.08 called for by congressional negotiator, would lose an increasing percentage, beginning at 2 percent in 2004 and rising to 8 percent in 2007.

Missouris loss would be nearly $9 million in 2004, rising to nearly $35 million dollars in 2007. Missouri has long resisted lowering the permitted blood-alcohol level. But key lawmakers say the threat of losing that much money could push the Missouri House and Senate to act this year.