Police report relatively few drunken driving arrests under 0.08

Posted: Thursday, January 03, 2002

Police departments around the state say relatively few DWI arrests were made during the New Year's holiday despite a tougher new 0.08 drunk driving law being on the books for the first time in Alaska.

Law enforcement officials were hesitant to attribute the drop in arrests to the new law that lowered the blood alcohol content from .10, but they see it as a positive sign.

''Maybe people are being a little more thoughtful about what they are doing,'' said Lt. Ray Miller, of the Fairbanks Police Department. ''I would like to hope it was the 0.08 legal limit.''

Fairbanks police reported only one DWI arrest on New Year's Eve and two more arrests on Jan. 1. Miller called it ''uncharacteristically low.''

In Juneau, two people were arrested for drunken driving during the New Year's holiday but police fielded several phone calls from concerned citizens about impaired drivers.

''The ones we caught up with and stopped ended up not being drunk, just bad drivers,'' said Juneau Police Sgt. Jerry Nankervis.

Police in Anchorage reported 17 DWI arrests attributed to the New Year's holiday. Anchorage Police increased staff during the New Year's holiday to meet the heavy workload, said spokesman Ron McGee.

The new drunken driving law was passed by the Legislature this year, in part to protect threatened federal highway funds. The law went into effect on Sept. 1.

Congress mandated that states that didn't lower the legal limit by Oct. 1, 2003, would lose 5 percent of the federal road money in the first year and 10 percent each year after 2004.

Backers of the new lower limit such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving say states that have lowered the limit to 0.08 have fewer alcohol-related highway crashes and deaths.

Alaska topped the nation in a 1999 MADD report for the number of fatal traffic accidents involving alcohol.

In advance of the New Year's holiday, state officials spent more than $68,000 to wage a media campaign warning motorists of the new lower blood alcohol limit.

It is too soon to know whether the new law will result in fewer fatalities or more arrests. Capt. Tom Porter, spokesman for the Juneau Police Department, said he remains cautiously optimistic that the reduced holiday DWI activity was a good sign.

''I do think this year, the decrease was a testament to people being more responsible and we're looking at that as a positive thing,'' Porter said.

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