Curbing drunken drivers

Senate plan: Lawmakers' push to adopt 0.08 as across-the-board blood-alcohol limit is a wise one.

June 26, 2000

LOOK NO further than Maryland to see why a tough national standard for drunken driving is necessary.

For years, pressure from the alcohol lobby and defense lawyers has kept state lawmakers in Annapolis from adopting a sensible 0.08 blood-alcohol limit. But Maryland is hardly alone. Only 18 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the stricter standard.

Because state leadership is so weak, the U.S. Senate is right to exert its own pressure on states through the transportation bill. Those refusing to adopt the 0.08 standard would lose federal highway funds, starting in 2004.

Using federal money to leverage state action is nothing new. It's also not a done deal in this case: The House's transportation bill lacks a blood-alcohol limit, and stiff opposition is likely from lobbying groups such as the American Beverage Institute, which heralds a study claiming the accident risk for a 0.10 drunk driver is the same as for a driver using a cell phone.

Such comparisons offer little more than distraction from the key point: Alcohol affects people differently and unpredictably, and for some, even the 0.08 alcohol level seriously impairs driving ability. While Congress can't legislate common sense, it can sure make it unpleasant for people who choose to ignore it.

The common-sense bottom line: For drivers, less is best. It's a message many are already getting, thanks primarily to education and enforcement efforts.

Last year in Maryland, for example, alcohol-related fatalities made up a little more than one-third of all traffic fatalities -- the lowest number in 30 years. One-third, however, is still unacceptably high.

The House needs to steer clear of powerful special interests and join the Senate in approving the 0.08 blood-alcohol standard. It's an overdue measure of safety for those traveling our nation's roads.

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