Proponents of lower DUI limit welcome federal help

Wednesday, October 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma lawmakers who have tried unsuccessfully to lower the amount of alcohol one can consume before being legally intoxicated said they think they can pass such a law next session -- thanks to the federal government.

On Monday, President Clinton signed a law establishing the national legal limit for blood-alcohol content at 0.08 percent.

States failing to adopt the new standard by 2004 will lose a portion of their federal highway funds.

Oklahoma's limit is 0.10, but not for long if state Rep. Mary Easley has her say.

"I think we can pass it this time," the Tulsa Democrat said of a lower limit law. "I'm very excited."

Lobbyists for the food and beverage industry have successfully blocked such attempts in recent legislative sessions, but Sen. Ben Brown, D-Oklahoma City, said he also will introduce new legislation next session to reduce the DUI standard.

He said the federal government's influence will outweigh even past support for the law from the Department of Public Safety, Gov.

Frank Keating and the Governor's Highway Safety Office.

"We often pass legislation like the (mandatory) seat belt law because of federal pressure," Brown said. "No one seems to like that, but it works."

Those against the law claim a 120-pound woman who consumes two 6-ounce glasses of wine over a two-hour period would be unable to drive under the new limit.

"That's not true," said Brown, claiming the restaurant and beer industries simply don't want to see their booze sales shrink.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which supports a 0.08 law, claims a 170-pound man would have to consume four alcoholic drinks within an hour on an empty stomach to score 0.08 percent on a sobriety test.

A 137-pound woman would have to take three drinks in an hour under the same circumstances to get to 0.08 percent, according to MADD.

If Oklahoma doesn't adopt the 0.08 percent standard by 2004, it will cost the state 2 percent of its federal highway money. The penalty will escalate by 2 percent each year until reaching a maximum of 8 percent.

Oklahoma gets about $360 million in federal highway funds annually, although that amount is increasing.

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