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Senate Approves Lowering National Legal Intoxication Standard

Aired June 16, 2000 - 1:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Every state may soon have the same standard for drunken driving. The Senate yesterday approved a bill to set the nationwide blood-alcohol content limit at 0.08 percent. The bill is part of a highway transportation bill. President Clinton supports it, but the measure could have a bumpy ride in the house. Representatives have blocked past efforts to make the national blood- alcohol standard 0.08.

CNN medical correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore joins us from our New York bureau.

Steve, how many drinks can a person have before they reach 0.8 percent blood-alcohol content?

DR. STEVE SALVATORE, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, 0.08, I know the numbers are hard to keep track with all these dots and zeros and everything.

But 0.08, to give you an idea, Andria, it takes about two drinks, drunk in about an hour, for the average person to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.04. So you figured it's got to be a little bit more than that. But we don't want to think in terms of that, because the important point here is that everybody is different.

People metabolize alcohol at different rates and that metabolism and the level of blood-alcohol in the body can change depending on your body weight, depending on genetic factors, depending on your sex. So rather than keep a number of drinks that you can drink safely, it's probably a good idea to not drink at all. But one drink will probably keep you less than 0.03 or so, and that's safest.

HALL: As a person's blood-alcohol content actually rises, what happens to them physically and does it change depending on your body type?

SALVATORE: Absolutely depends -- it changes depending on your body type, depends on your resistance to alcohol, how much you drink, how often you drink. But in general, if you are about 0.03 percent, that gives a mild euphoria, that's what people consider like "a buzz," what people call a buzz or feeling good or feeling giddy.

When you get up to 0.05 percent, then you are at looking things like incoordination, decreased reaction time and visual perceptions and also you lack good judgment. So if you are driving a car and you think you might be able to take a turn at a certain speed, you might not be able to.

Once you get to 0.1 percent, then have you really have someone who is legally drunk, who's unsteady walking, might have some slurred speech and all these other things about incoordination and stuff are worsened.

Really, to be honest, the amount of accidents go up 11 times after you're over 0.05, the number of fatal car crashes associated with drinking. So 0.05 is a much better number, a much safer number than 0.08. I mean, we're happy about the legislation, it's only going to be good for people, but I think we can do better because really at 0.05 you are impaired.

HALL: Dr. Steve Salvatore, thanks for sorting it all out for us.

SALVATORE: Sure, exactly.

HALL: And we've got 0.08, now, got it. Thank you.

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