Liquor industry supports tighter drunk driving standard

Tuesday, April 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Efforts to get states to tighten drunken driving standards received a boost Tuesday when the liquor industry agreed to lobby for legislation.

Industry representatives joined Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and Mothers Against Drunk Driving President Millie Webb to push state legislatures to make 0.08 percent blood alcohol content the legal standard for drunk driving. Most states now have a 0.10 BAC standard.

Proponents say the tighter standard could save 500 lives a year.

Legislation signed last fall by President Clinton would take away 2 percent of federal highway funds from states who fail to adopt the 0.08 standard by 2004.

Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia have a 0.08 standard, and in Massachusetts a level of 0.08 is considered evidence but not proof of drunkenness. Arizona Gov. Jane Hull is expected to sign legislation this week imposing a 0.08 standard.

The other states have a 0.10 standard, including Minnesota, where a legislative committee Monday refused to tighten the limit. A proponent of the tighter standard, Democratic state Rep. Matt Entenza, said the liquor industry's announcement was ``more proof that 0.08 is inevitable.''

Industry officials said they would push the 0.08 BAC standard _ the equivalent of a 170-pound man downing four drinks in an hour on an empty stomach _ as part of a package of laws aimed at motorists who repeatedly drive drunk.

Such laws include giving states the power to seize cars driven by repeat drunk drivers, increasing penalties for those with multiple drunk driving convictions and requiring those convicted of drunk driving to undergo treatment.

``We believe that to achieve the best possible impact on this important battle, states should promote effective comprehensive legislation addressing several key areas,'' said former Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y., chairwoman of the Century Council, an advocacy and education group funded by distillers.

Representatives of the beer industry, while not endorsing the 0.08 BAC standard, said they won't oppose it either.

``We'll allow states to make up their own minds,'' said Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, the industry's Washington-based trade association.

After years of decline, the number of alcohol-related deaths edged up from 15,876 in 1999 to 16,068 in 2000, about 38 percent of all traffic fatalities. Mineta said he hoped to reduce the number of alcohol-related fatalities to 11,000 by 2005.