Sunday, January 14, 2001

Is new DUI law working?

Few facts, but it appears so

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's been 3 1/2 months since Kentucky instituted a tougher drunken driving law, but Kentucky State Police can't tell if it's having an effect.

        On Oct. 1, Kentucky became the 18th state — and the first in the Tristate — to lower the blood alcohol content (BAC) at which drivers are presumed intoxicated from 0.10 to 0.08. It also imposes harsher punishments on repeat drunken drivers.

        While some prosecutors, lawmakers and other supporters of the new DUI law say they have anecdotal, or limit ed statistical information that the legislation is helping curb drunken driving, most say it will be about a year before the impact is known.

        “We don't have the statistics yet on the 0.08 arrests,” said Lt. Kevin Payne, spokesman for the Kentucky State Police headquarters in Frankfort. While the law took effect in October, data entry is months behind.

        The governor's highway safety program, which promotedthe new DUI law, is about a year behind on receiving data on DUIs and other traffic arrests, said Sgt. Tony Young.

        Likewise, Mothers Against DrunkDriving does not have the people or finances to compile up-to-date statistics.

        In September, a U.S. Department of Transportation study showed Illinois' 0.08 blood-alcohol content limit, adopted in 1997, resulted in 13.7 percent fewer drivers involved in fatal crashes.

        A 1996 Boston University study comparing six states that had 0.08 laws with six nearby states with the 0.10 standard, found a 6 percent greater decline in fatal DUI accidents in the 0.08 states.

        By early February, the Frankfort-based Administrative Office of the Courts, which collects information on all Kentucky court cases, should be able to report convictions on a daily basis, instead of quarterly.

        Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson has kept his own statistics for the 2000 calendar year, breaking out charges and convictions since the law changed on Oct. 1.

        He found that the conviction rate for DUI cases charged and resolved before Oct. 1 was 82 percent (946 of 1,148 cases) — while the conviction rate for cases charged and resolved under the new law increased to 85 percent (41 of 48 DUI cases).

        While only a 3 percent difference, Mr. Edmondson said he is confident those percentages will continue to rise.

        Of the 1,392 Kenton County DUI cases resolved in 2000 (including some carried over from 1999) 77 percent pleaded guilty before trial, Mr. Edmondson said.

        “I'm primarily interested in whether there's a reduction in the number of alcohol-related crashes and the number of injuries and fatalities in those crashes,” said state Rep. Rob Wilkey, a Franklin Democrat who was the primary sponsor of the new DUI law. “The purpose of this legislation is to save lives. If it's keeping people from driving drunk, then it's doing its job.”

        Meanwhile, Ohio, one of 31 states with a BAC of 0.10, has pledged to fight a federal highway funding law that calls for the 0.08 standard by Oct. 1, 2003.

        “We figure if the bourbon state can adopt 0.08, why can't Ohio?” said Judy Mead, state executive director for Ohio MADD.

        Ohio Sen. Dick Finan, R-Evendale, has described the dispute as tantamount to federal blackmail.


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