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Lawmakers Consider Lowering Drunken Driving Limit

February 03, 1998
By: LUCAS WALL
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Beverly Livingston told the Senate Transportation Committee about her 23-year-old daughter being killed by a drunk driver three years ago.

"I know how it destroys lives forever," she said at Tuesday's meeting. "I know it destroys dreams and hopes."

Livingston, vice president of Missouri's Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter, urged the committee to pass legislation lowering the state's legal blood-alcohol content from 0.10 to 0.08.

"If the state has a tougher legal limit, it will deter the average person from drinking and driving in the first place," Livingston said.

The Division of Highway Safety, Missouri State Highway Patrol, and Missouri Safety Council also endorsed the bill, sponsored by Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway.

Westfall said lowering the limit would not punish light social drinkers.

"It still takes a lot of alcohol to reach the 0.08 content," he said. "This is one more thing we can do to make our highways safe."

Fifteen states currently set their legal limit at 0.08, which is roughly equivalent to five beers in two hours for a 170-pound male. While proponents said 0.08 substantially impairs a driver, others disagreed.

"We do not believe it accomplishes the laudable goal of reducing traffic fatalities," said Jim Durham of the Missouri Wine & Spirits Association. "What this really accomplishes is to make criminal what was noncriminal, harmless behavior."

Durham said 78 percent of drunken-driving accidents are caused by people with BACs over 0.15. He urged the committee to instead focus on ways to stop such severely intoxicated people from driving.

Highway Patrol Col. W.L. Wilhoit said 284 people died in Missouri because of drunk drivers in 1997.

MADD is conducting a nationwide campaign to lower the legal BAC to 0.08. U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater has urged Congress to enact a law to cut highway funding to states that have a legal BAC above 0.08. A similar law was passed in the 1980s to convince states to raise legal drinking ages to 21.