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MADD members align with lawmakers on tightening national blood alcohol standards

Group encourages Bush, Gore to state their positions

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The yearly congressional appropriations process has brought about a revival of a controversial effort to lower national blood alcohol levels in a manner that would strictly define the "impairment" of individual drivers who have consumed alcohol before seating themselves behind the wheel.

Appearing on the grounds of the Capitol Building on Thursday, officials of the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and several lawmakers from both parties urged the full Congress to get behind a Senate move that would lower the national legal standard for alcohol impairment to a .08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC).

Drunken driving is "the most frequently committed violent crime in our country," said Millie Webb, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on Thursday.  

At present, only 18 of the 50 states enforce a .08 law, while most others have .10 laws on their books.

Drunken driving is "the most frequently committed violent crime in our country," said Millie Webb, president of MADD, at the organization's Thursday morning news conference. "Congress should just say 'yes' to the .08 law."

Congress debated a similar provision two years ago, when it hammered out a massive transportation spending and policy bill that set long-term funding parameters for a variety of projects ranging from highway construction and maintenance, to airport trust funds and new public transportation efforts.

The language in that bill was eventually softened to only encourage states to change their impairment standard to .08, after the hospitality and alcohol lobbies launched a concentrated effort to reduce the force of the language.

The issue was revived a handful of weeks ago, when the Senate, while debating its fiscal year 2001 spending levels for the Department of Transportation and related agencies, approved a rider by a decisive 99-0 margin calling for a .08 standard as a measuring stick for each state's eligibility to receive its full share of federal highway funds.

The House, when debating its own version of the transportation spending bill, did not add any such provision.

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater  

Now that the House and Senate are preparing to convene a conference committee to finalize a compromise version of the appropriations bill, representatives of MADD, a host of lawmakers and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater urged the House members of the conference committee to concede to the Senate language, and make the .08 standard part of the bill.

"People at .08 are too impaired to drive," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, whose state has no such law on its books. "Studies show that at .08, the ability to perform critical driving functions is decreased by as much as 60 percent."

"Our country," Lautenberg added, "is the only major industrialized country without a standard of .08."

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey  

MADD maintains that a nationwide decrease in the legal BAC would result in 500 lives saved per year. According to MADD-provided statistics, the rate of alcohol-related road deaths could decrease by 6- to 8 percent across the board with the implementation of such a limit.

Even at .08, the organization says, basic driving skills are impaired enough to present an 11 percent risk of a fatal crash. At .10, the limit in most states, that risk increases dramatically -- to 29 percent.

"At .08, a person's ability to drive safely is seriously degraded," said Slater, who appeared with Webb to express the support of the Clinton administration for the provision.

Rep. Michael Castle, R-Delaware, the lone Republican in attendance Thursday, said many lawmakers argued two years ago that the BAC should be considered a states' rights issue when the previous language was watered down.

Rep. Michael Castle, R-Delaware  

But, Castle insisted, small states such as Delaware, which may border two, three or even four other states, are directly affected by the conduct of their next door neighbors.

"It probably should be less than .08," Castle said.

Other prominent House Republicans do support the language, even if they did not appear on Thursday. Those include conservative Charles Canady of Florida, who chairs the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee.

With the beginning of the national political conventions early next week, Webb challenged the two major parties' presidential candidates, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, to come forward and state their positions on the issue.

"On whose side will you stand?" Webb asked. "Our members want to know your position."


Millie Webb, president of MADD, calls on Congress to lower the national legal standard for alcohol impairment to a .08 percent blood alcohol content.

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Thursday, July 27, 2000


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