DWI limit lowered to .08

Posted: Sunday, September 02, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska drivers be warned. With the long Labor Day weekend on hand, it will take fewer drinks for a driver to be considered legally drunk.

A new state law went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday that says a person can be arrested for driving while intoxicated if the amount of alcohol in the blood is measured at 0.08 percent, down from 0.10 percent.

Col. Randy Crawford, head of Alaska State Troopers, said no one should expect a grace period.

''We will be enforcing the law at midnight with zero tolerance,'' he told The Anchorage Daily News.

The new standard, adopted by many states, should keep more drunken drivers off the roads, public safety officials said.

''It establishes more of that fear factor in a motorist's mind,'' troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson said. They'll drink less or not drive if they're unsure of how they'd fare under the new standard, he said.

Law enforcement and corrections officials predict the lower limit will increase DWI arrests by about 5 percent and result in more DWI convictions.

The motivation to change the state law was money, said Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. His panel sponsored the bill. Gov. Tony Knowles signed it on July 3.

The federal government will punish states that don't lower their blood-alcohol limits by Oct. 1, 2003, by taking away highway dollars. Alaska stood to lose $3.5 million in the first year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The federal pressure was intended to save lives, said Cindy Cashen, a member of the Juneau chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Eight studies show that states with the 0.08 limit have fewer alcohol-related highway crashes and deaths, she said.

A woman weighing 137 pounds with an empty stomach would reach 0.08 by having three drinks in an hour, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A 170-pound man would be under the legal limit after four drinks in an hour but over if he had one more, the agency said.

So far, 27 states have enacted 0.08 laws and six more are working on them, said Matt Felix, director of the Alaska chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

As a bonus, Alaska shared $77 million in federal incentive grants with the other states for getting this bill through. Knowles said he plans to give Alaska's cut, $668,000, to existing programs that fight drunken driving.

The expected increase in arrests will cost the state about $600,000 the first year, said Candy Brower, legislative liaison for the Corrections Department. But her agency expects the annual costs will be double that because there will be more convictions. And that's where the extra costs come in, she said.

Last year in Anchorage, 1,306 drivers were tested at 0.10 and up, while 61 were tested between 0.08 and 0.0999, according to Del Smith, deputy commissioner of public safety.

Statewide, 685 drivers were tested between 0.08 and 0.0999 between 1998 and 2000, he said.

Ron Taylor, head of the Alcohol Safety Action Program, said many drivers who didn't meet the 0.10 limit were charged instead with reckless driving. There's no mandatory minimum jail time for that charge, he said.

A person convicted of DWI in Alaska for the first time faces a minimum $250 fine and 72 hours in jail and loses his license for 90 days, Wilkinson said. By the fourth offense, the penalty rises to least a $2,000 fine, 120 days in jail and five years without a driver's license, he said.



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