Del. Lowers Drunk Driving Threshold

July 12, 2004

Delaware lawmakers recently agreed to join the rest of the nation by lowering the blood-alcohol threshold for drunken driving.

Lawmakers voted to lower the blood-alcohol concentration considered prima facie evidence that a motorist is driving under the influence from .10 to .08.

Delaware was the last state to make the change. The governors of Colorado and Minnesota signed .08 legislation in their states in May.

“It’s been a 10-year struggle, and tonight we finally have a .08 bill,” said Rep. William Oberle Jr., R-Newark, who has fought for years to lower the blood-alcohol threshold.

The Senate voted 20-1 to approve the lower threshold, but only after adding an amendment under which a first offender convicted of driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level below .08 can receive a conditional driver’s license immediately and need not take an alcohol education course.

The House broke out in applause after members voted unanimously to approve the bill as revised by the Senate.

“I would be less than honest if I said I was happy with the amendment,'” Oberle said. “But I think it’s a compromise worth adopting.”

The General Assembly’s action means Delaware will avoid losing millions of dollars in federal highway funds, but Oberle said the issue was about saving lives, not saving money.

“At .08, you should not be driving a 2,000-pound weapon,” said Rep. Peter Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, a retired state trooper.

Lowering the blood-alcohol threshold has been a legislative priority for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner since she took office three years ago.

Until last Wednesday night, Senate Democrats, including President Pro Tem Thurman Adams, who hosts after-hours cocktail sessions in his Legislative Hall office for lawmakers and lobbyists, balked at the change.

Opponents said lowering the threshold could ruin the lives of otherwise law-abiding social drinkers.

“We are clearly going to criminalize people who are not involved in criminal behavior,” said Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, who voted for the change.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a 170-pound man would need to consume four drinks in one hour to reach the .08 limit. A 137-pound woman would reach the same level of intoxication after three drinks in one hour.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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