Thursday, May 24, 2001

Reduction sought in DUI limit

Lawmaker faces tough battle to get blood-alcohol level set at 0.08

By Travis James Tritten
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — A Republican lawmaker wants Ohio to reduce the legal limit for driving drunk from a blood-alcohol concentration level of 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent.

        Lowering the limit will save lives and bring Ohio into compliance with a federal law mandating the reduction, said Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont.

        “The bottom line is that this law will save lives,” said Mr. Damschroder, who has introduced the proposal four times.

        Mothers Against Drunk Driving and state troopers gathered Wednesday to support the legislation that would shave about one drink off what a driver could consume before being considered legally drunk.

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        The anti-drunken driving group says lowering the limit would reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities by 8 percent in Ohio, and would save 500 lives nationally each year. During Memorial Day weekend last year, two of nine traffic deaths in Ohio were alcohol-related.

        “Everybody, once they get to .08, is impaired at that point,” said Lisa Frericks, MADD spokeswoman.

        If Ohio doesn't lower the limit, it stands to lose millions of dollars in federal highway construction funding. The federal government has said it will cut highway funding to states that do not adopt 0.08 legislation by 2003.

        Mr. Damschroder estimates the state could lose as much as $65 million in funding.

        “We can't afford to lose this kind of money,” Mr. Damschroder said.

        Twenty-five states have passed 0.08 blood-alcohol laws, including Kentucky and Indiana. Similar bills have been introduced in the Ohio legislature each year since 1995. “There's been a lot of support — unfortunately, there's been a lot of opposition,” Mr. Damschroder said.

        Mr. Damschroder says lowering the limit would affect only those who are too impaired to drive.

        But critics say the proposed law would also affect responsible social drinkers, who might have a few drinks after work or with dinner but are still capable of driving safely.

        Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, said he opposes the bill. “If I really thought lowering the blood-alcohol content to .08 was going to help with the problem of drunk driving in the state, then I would be leading the charge,” Mr. Finan said.

        Under the proposal, police would focus too much on minor offenders, and not enough on habitual offenders who have a blood-alcohol content of 0.17 or above, Mr. Finan said.
        With wire service reports


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