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CNN Today

Congress Edges Closer to Lowering Drunk Driving Threshold

Aired October 3, 2000 - 1:20 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: On Capitol Hill today, House and Senate negotiators agreed to a timetable for penalizing states that fail to lower their drunken-driving thresholds. Congress wants a nationwide standard of 0.8 percent blood alcohol, and it wants to trim the federal highway funds of states that resist.

CNN's Kate Snow has more now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRENDA FRAZIER, MOTHER OF DUI VICTIM: There is no mother that should have to have her birthday spent making plans for her little girl's funeral.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Brenda Frazier's 9- year-old daughter Ashley was waiting for the school bus in her driveway when a driver swerved and killed her. The driver spent five days in jail.

FRAZIER: Justice was not served, and I feel that my daughter's life was worth more than five days incarceration.

SNOW: The driver who hit Ashley had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08, enough to be considered legally drunk in many states, but below the legal limit of 0.10 in Maryland.

It's that kind of story that's fueled a two-year effort on Capitol Hill to require all states to define a drunk driver as someone with a 0.08 or higher. Although there is conflicting research about whether a 0.08 limit makes a difference, advocates insist the change would save 500 lives a year.

The government says 0.08 is the level a 170-pound man would have after drinking more than four drinks in an hour on an empty stomach. A 137-pound woman would have to drink three drinks in that same period.

But restaurant and liquor industries lobbied hard against the lower standard, saying a smaller person could drink less and still register a 0.08.

JOHN DOYLE, AMERICAN BEVERAGE INSTITUTE: It simply doesn't work. It will not save any lives. But worse, it will arrest people who are today considered responsible social drinkers. And finally, really, it takes the nation's attention off the drunk driving problem, which involves drivers with much more alcohol in their system.

SNOW: Nineteen states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia already use the 0.08 standard. Most other states define drunk driving as anything over a 0.10 blood alcohol concentration. Some lawmakers argued against imposing a new nationwide rule, citing states' rights to set their own laws.

(on camera): In the compromise, states would have until 2004 to adopt the new standard with no penalty. But after that, states would start losing federal highway funds, money states rely on to build roads and bridges.

Kate Snow, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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