Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Still early to gauge bite of new DUI law

But most arrested over old limit

By Janice Morse and Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ohio's stricter driving under-the-influence law is a week old, too soon to tell how many people may be snared under the new 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold.

But preliminary reports from Greater Cincinnati patrol posts show most motorists arrested for DUI are testing well above the previous, higher level of 0.10.

Here are figures tallied by Ohio State Highway Patrol posts from the law's effective date, July 1, through the holiday weekend:

Batavia: 24 arrested, all over 0.10; none at a level covered by the new law (between 0.08 and 0.10).

Hamilton: 15 arrested, including two motorists who refused to take a breath test; one tested between 0.08 and 0.10. The highest reading: 0.25.

Lebanon: 11 arrested, including five refusals; one registered between 0.08 and 0.10.

Sgt. Bob Potter, assistant commander of the patrol's Hamilton post, said the difference between the two numbers is academic. Police may cite motorists who show signs of impairment, regardless of any test result. The numbers reflect the level at which a motorist is "presumed under the influence;" the numbers also provide "additional information for the case," Potter said.

Motorists under 21 are presumed impaired at a much lower level, 0.02, because it is illegal for them to consume any alcoholic beverages. He noted one 17-year-old tested 0.067.

As for the effect on July 4 holiday fatalities, Lt. Rick Fambro of the patrol's Columbus headquarters noted that five people died in four crashes during this year's three-day holiday period; two of the crashes were alcohol-related. Last year, 11 lives were lost in seven crashes during a two-day July 4 holiday period; one involved alcohol, but alcohol use was unknown in four of the crashes.

In any case, Lt. Fambro said, "It's not about total arrests. It's about the number of lives saved. It's very simple: The more lives we can save, the better off we are as a state and as an agency."

About 0.08 DUI law

What does the new law mean? If someone over age 21 operates a motor vehicle and tests show he has a blood-alcohol concentration reading of 0.08 or higher, that constitutes an offense of impaired driving in and of itself. Drivers still can be charged with DUI at lower levels, based on a law-enforcement officer's belief that the driver was impaired.

How many drinks does it take to reach 0.08? An average 170-pound man must consume more than four alcoholic drinks in one hour on an empty stomach to reach a 0.08 blood-alcohol level; for a 137-pound woman, it would take about three drinks in an hour.

What effects are caused at 0.08? Regardless of how much alcohol it takes to get to this level, at 0.08 the fatal crash risk significantly increases, and virtually everyone is seriously impaired.

How dangerous is it to drive at 0.08? The risk of a driver being killed in a crash who has a 0.08 blood-alcohol concentration is at least 11 times greater than that of drivers without alcohol in their system. Alcohol consumption affects all the basic critical driving skills, including braking, steering, lane-changing, judgment and response time. More than 20 percent of alcohol-related traffic deaths involve blood-alcohol levels below 0.10.

How widespread is the 0.08 law? In October 2000, a federal law required states to pass a 0.08 blood alcohol "per se" law by Oct. 1, 2003, or face the withholding of 2 percent of their federal highway construction funds. Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are among 41 states that now have such a law.

What are the penalties for driving under the influence in Ohio? First-time offenders receive an immediate 90-day driver's license suspension if they test above the legal limit. Other penalties include a three-day jail term, a fine of $200 to $1,000 and an additional license suspension upon conviction. Refusal to take a blood-alcohol test results in a one-year suspension. Penalties escalate for subsequent offenses or very high blood-alcohol readings. Driving under the influence becomes a felony after three convictions.

Sources: Mothers Against Drunk Driving Web site (www.madd.org) ; Ohio State Highway Patrol (www.ohiopublicsafety.com)


E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com

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