Pennsylvania’s tougher new blood-alcohol limit for motorists has had a minimal effect on the number of people being arrested for driving drunk, according to state police records.
About 21,000 people were arrested for driving under the influence in the six months after Sept. 30, when the state lowered the legal limit from 0.10 to 0.08 percent.
That number represents about a four percent increase from the 20,171 arrests during the same six-month period a year earlier, but is similar to the 21,018 arrested a year before.
Over the past five years, an average of 20,729 people have been arrested for drunken driving between October and March.
Pennsylvania was one of 14 states that adopted the more stringent blood alcohol standard last year to avoid losing millions of dollars in federal highway funding. All 50 states now use the 0.08 standard.
Doctors and anti-drunken driving groups had argued that the lower limit was a more accurate mark of when a person was too intoxicated to drive.
Critics of the law said it could lead to the arrests of thousands of “social drinkers” without having any real effect on alcohol-related crashes.
Trooper David Andrascik, who coordinates drunken driving programs for the state police, said he never believed the law would lead to a dramatic increase in arrests. He speculated that the law’s more stringent limits on alcohol may have spooked some people into changing their driving habits.
“The point,” he said, “is for people, or the public, to have that one less drink before they hit the road.”
Defense attorney John Mancke said he thought arrests would increase as police became more comfortable with the new standards.
“What I’ve been hearing is that some police officers may be a little unsure with the new law, and may be easing into it in terms of enforcement,” he said.
Rebecca Shaver, the executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said it is too early to measure the law’s full effect. Many of its provisions, including harsher penalties for repeat offenders and people who drive while very drunk, did not become law until February.
First-time offenders get more lenient treatment under the law. One provision will allow a driver to keep their license if they had a blood-alcohol content of less than 0.10 percent. Previously, anyone convicted of driving while intoxicated lost their license for at least a few months.
The difference between the two levels can be as little as a single glass of wine.
Experts say a 170-pound man will reach the 0.08 percent limit if he consumes four drinks on an empty stomach within one hour. To get to 0.10 percent, the same man would need to have five drinks.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed
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