0.08 BAC law not about the money
If someone told you to use a net when you walk a tightrope, would you resist just because you resented being ordered around?
It’s something for Colorado lawmakers to think about as they consider legislation next year to lower the blood alcohol level at which a person is considered to be legally drunk.
This good idea has become muddled by the federal government, which is inappropriately flexing its muscle to make Colorado and other holdout states follow its wishes.
Colorado is one of 15 states that still define drunk driving as driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.10 percent or greater. The federal government is withholding highway funding from these states until they go along with the 0.08 BAC definition. In Colorado’s case, about $50 million is at stake.
The state Department of Transportation is pushing the legislature to comply. The state could use the money, it says, and the change could save lives.
We urge passage of legislation lowering the limit in spite of, rather than because of, the money at stake. After all, lives are also at stake. And this isn’t about the money; it’s about saving lives.
If it were only about the money, we’d tell the federal government to keep it, and quit meddling in our affairs. For far too long, Washington has been sticking its nose into state affairs regarding highway safety matters such as speed limits, using withheld funds to get its way.
The tactic has been wrong, even if the cause has been right. Passing a 0.08 BAC law is one of the things states can do to save lives on the highways.
Regulations regarding seat belts, motorcycle helmets, the legal drinking age or drunk driving should be up to states to decide. The federal government, which is otherwise not empowered to be making those decisions, is stepping over the line in using the power of the purse to meddle.
That said, it’s high time Colorado joined other states in further cracking down on drinking and driving. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, research shows about 500 lives could be saved each year if every state passed a 0.08 BAC law.
Results from individual states have varied, but studies reveal that on average, a 6 to 8 percent reduction in alcohol-related traffic deaths follows passage of the 0.08 law.
It stands to reason. The average 170-pound man must have more than four drinks in an hour on an empty stomach to reach the 0.08 BAC law. That goes far beyond social drinking. Such a person has no business being behind the wheel of a car where he can endanger others and himself, and he should face the full force of Colorado’s drunken driving penalties.
Far less drinking can still hamper the ability to drive, which is why Colorado has in place the 0.05 BAC minimum standard for driving while ability impaired. The DWAI law would not be affected by a reduction in the drunken driving standard.
The crackdown on drunken driving across the United States has gone far toward making our roads safer. But there’s still much work to be done. While drunken driving deaths dropped dramatically during the 1980s, they leveled off during the 1990s, and have risen again in recent years.
According to MADD, 17,448 were killed in alcohol-related crashes in 2001. That’s 41 percent of all traffic deaths.
Acting on their own accord, states should continue to seize whatever additional opportunities exist for reducing the danger posed by drunken driving.
Colorado could stand on principle and fight the federal government over its drunken driving law. But it wouldn’t be fighting the good fight.
It would be a case of continuing to send state residents out on that tightrope without a net, and losing lives unnecessarily to make a point.
– Dennis Webb, News Editor
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