Federal transportation officials yesterday published proposed rules for the government's new grant program to fight drunk driving--criteria so tough, they said, that no state could qualify for the money at this time.
As proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, states would have to meet four basic criteria to qualify for the $125 million, three-year program.
They must specify that drivers found to have .10 percent alcohol in their blood automatically will be declared drunk; require that the licenses of first offenders be suspended for 90 days, and repeat offenders for one year; require that second offenders be sentenced to at least 48 hours in jail or 10 days of community service; and demonstrate stepped-up enforcement efforts coupled with a public awareness campaign.
Virginia and the District apparently meet three of the four criteria, but Maryland meets only one, officials said.
States that qualify could receive between $250,000 and $1 million, depending upon how many drivers and miles of road they have, NHTSA said. Maryland would receive $420,000, Virginia, $600,000 and the District, $140,000 in basic grants if they qualified, officials estimated.
NHTSA will accept comments on its proposed criteria until Jan. 14. A final rule is due Feb. 1.
States could get supplemental funds, as much as 20 percent of their basic grant, if they met "additional criteria," but NHTSA has not decided how many of these 21 criteria must be met.
It said, however, that it would give top priority to these five: setting a state drinking age of 21 for all alcoholic drinks; having a state coordinator for an alcohol highway safety program; establishing alcohol rehabilitation and treatment centers; creating a network of local task forces; and developing a driver-record identification system that lets police identify repeat offenders quickly.
Several states warned NHTSA before it published the proposal that suspending a drunk driver's license within 30 days of his arrest, as Congress had suggested when it set up the program, would be difficult and expensive. NHTSA compromised by proposing that states suspend licenses in at least 60 percent of their cases within 30 days. On average, it said, states should not take longer than 45 days to suspend a license.
NHTSA proposed letting states bar a drunk driver from all driving for 90 days, or bar him from driving for 30 days, with driving limited for the next 60 days to travel to and from work or to alcohol treatment programs.
NHTSA also would define "repeat offenders" as those who have been convicted of an alcohol-related traffic offense more than once in five years.
The drunk-driving program is one of the rare categorical grant programs the administration has promoted. It generally prefers block grants with few restrictions on how states qualify for the money and use it.