Groups have mixed reaction to lower drunken driving threshold

By Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldMay 14, 2013 

Mothers Against Drunk Driving appreciates the federal government's efforts to lower the blood-alcohol threshold to .05 percent for motorists, according to state manager Amy Ezzo.

However, she said the idea could take years to become law.

"If the record of getting the national blood-alcohol level to .08 is any indication, it is going to take a really, really long time," Ezzo said. "We need actions that won't take 20 years."

MADD is focusing on getting "high visibility law enforcement" -- sobriety checkpoints coupled with extra patrols -- implemented throughout the state, Ezzo said.

The most efficient way to cut back on the number of traffic deaths is to educate people that drinking and driving, in any capacity, can turn your car into a deadly weapon, Ezzo said.

"The key message we really want out here is that alcohol and driving don't mix," she said.

Mike Aldridge, manager of the Benton-Franklin Traffic Safety Task Force's Target Zero program, fully supports the recommendation and thinks it will translate into safer roads and less fatalities.

Target Zero is a cooperative effort with every law enforcement agency in the Tri-Cities to end all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

"If you lower the blood-alcohol level, you are able to arrest people and get them off the road before they are involved in an accident that can end up in a fatality," Aldridge said.

Pasco attorney Brian Roach, who specializes in DUI cases, believes the government's intent is to ultimately have a zero tolerance policy -- getting behind the wheel after even one drink could land you in jail, he said.

Roach thinks the current laws are satisfactory, he said, though he agrees with the public's concern about drinking and driving.

"There's other ways to achieve public awareness and public protection without changing that number," he said.

The Kennewick Police Department has been able to maintain a low rate of fatalities and serious injuries with the blood-alcohol limit where it is, said Chief Ken Hohenberg.

Hohenberg agreed with Roach, saying he thinks the current laws are "adequate to take care of the problems we have." He acknowledged that people, especially victims of drunk driving incidents, want law enforcement to be as strict as possible on the issue.

Most drunk drivers have a blood-alcohol level well over .08, Hohenberg said. Dropping the legal level to .05 could potentially lead to more DUI arrests and put an added strain on jails.

"The bottom line is the state just allowed the legal use of marijuana for under an ounce," Hohenberg said. "I'm a little bit more concerned with that, and people driving under the influence of that, than the difference between a .04 and a .05."

Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane said if the federal government can prove "through medical science" that a driver is impaired at .05, then his department would support lowering the limit.

Keane agreed with Hohenberg that there could be an added strain on the jails if the legal limit was lowered.

"Obviously, you don't want people in jail that shouldn't be in jail," he said. "It costs taxpayers money and ties up the courts."

-- Kristin Kraemer contributed to this story.

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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