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  Clinton Signs Drunken Driving Bill

By Terence Hunt
AP White House Correspondent
Monday, Oct. 23, 2000; 6:05 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– President Clinton signed a bill Monday setting a tough national standard for drunken driving, saying the new legal limit of 0.08 percent will save 500 lives a year and force Americans to take more care when they drink.

States that refuse to impose the standard by 2004 will lose millions of dollars in federal highway construction money. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have a 0.08 percent limit. Thirty-one states define drunken driving as 0.10 limit blood alcohol content or do not set a specific standard.

"This is a very good day for the United States," Clinton said. He called the new standard "the biggest step to toughen drunk driving laws and reduce alcohol-related crashes since a national minimum drinking age was established a generation ago."

Clinton was joined in a Rose Garden ceremony by Millie Webb, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and MADD members who have lost relatives in alcohol-related crashes. Webb lost her 4½-year-old daughter and 19-month-old nephew and suffered a broken neck and burns over 75 percent of her body 28 years ago in an accident caused by a drinking driver.

The bill signing climaxed a fierce three-year battle in Congress.

The American Beverage Institute, an association of restaurant operators, called the new law "an attack on social drinkers." It said a 120-pound woman who drinks two 6-ounce glasses of wine over a two-hour period could face arrest and mandatory jail or loss of her license.

"This law will arrest people who are not part of the drunk driving problem," said spokesman John Doyle. "But more, this law in a lot of ways is leaving many Americans to believe that the drunk driving problem has been addressed and nothing could be further from the truth."

Arguing for the law, MADD said a 170-pound man would have to have four drinks in an hour on an empty stomach, and a 137-pound woman three drinks in an hour, to reach 0.08. Both MADD and the American Beverage Institute cited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies.

MADD also said that alcohol is just as intoxicating in beer, wine or hard liquor. It said a 12-ounce can of beer, a five-ounce glass of wine and a 12-ounce wine cooler all contain the same amount of alcohol and have the same intoxicating potential as 1½ ounces of hard liquor.

NHTSA cautioned that factors such as sleep and food consumption could affect blood alcohol levels.

Clinton called efforts to pass national drunken-driving standard an uphill battle. It was approved 344-50 by the House and 78-10 by the Senate. The provision was part of a $58 billion transportation spending bill loaded with pre-election highway, mass transit and aviation projects for every state.

To accommodate them, the measure was $7.3 billion higher than last year's level, $3.3 billion more than Clinton requested and nearly $3 billion larger than earlier versions passed by the House and Senate. "We can't veto every bill because there is pork in it," said presidential spokesman Jake Siewert.

Clinton said alcohol is the single greatest factor in motor vehicle deaths and injuries. "Lowering the limit will make responsible Americans take even greater care when they drink alcohol in any amounts, if they intend to drive," he said.

States that fail to adopt the 0.08 standard by 2004 would lose 2 percent of their highway money. The penalty would grow by an additional 2 percent each year up to 8 percent by 2007. States that adopt the standard by 2007 would be reimbursed for any lost money.

In 1999, 15,786 Americans were killed in alcohol-related crashes, including over 2,200 children. Clinton cited estimates that the new standard would save at least 500 lives a year. "How often do we get a chance to begin a good morning and a good week by saving 500 lives a year," he said.

The 19 states the White House said have a 0.08 limit are Alabama, California, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. Massachusetts does not have a per se law making it illegal to drive at a specified blood alcohol level, the White House said. The other 30 states have 0.10 limits.


The bill is H.R. 4475.

On the Net: MADD:

American Beverage Institute:

State drunken driving laws:

Search for bills at:

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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