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Wednesday October 25, 2000

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New drunken driving standards could lead to more arrests at UA

By Hillary Davis

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Tougher DUI law leaves students with mixed reactions

President Bill Clinton's signing of a bill earlier this week that will set the national standard for drunken driving to a .08 percent blood-alcohol content could possibly result in more campus DUI arrests, a UA police official said yesterday.

UAPD Sgt. Michael Smith said that lowering the state's standard for drunken driving could possibly lead to more arrests - however, officers' patrol habits will be unaffected because they do not know a driver's intoxication level when they pull the person over, he said.

"Typically, when an officer makes a stop, it's for erratic driving, and that won't change," Smith said.

In 1999, University of Arizona police made 81 arrests for driving under the influence, Smith said. There were no drunken driving-related deaths.

Under Arizona state law, sobriety is defined two ways - only one of which specifically concerns blood-alcohol content, which Smith said would be affected by the legal change.

A driver may be arrested for being impaired to the slightest degree, regardless of blood-alcohol content. Further sobriety testing such as a breath-analysis test, which shows the person's blood alcohol content, could lead to another arrest.

Arrests on the second charge, Smith said, could potentially rise with the new law.

Despite this, Smith said resetting Arizona's law will be an opportunity to educate the public on the dangers of drunken driving, which could bring about positive change.

"If that prevents them from doing what they do normally, that's obviously a positive," he said.

The new law, signed Monday, requires all states to implement a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content standard as the legal level for drunken driving by 2004. States that fail to adjust their standards would lose millions of dollars a year in federal highway funds.

Arizona is one of 31 states that currently defines drunken driving as 0.1 percent blood alcohol content.

Francie Noyes, spokeswoman for Gov. Jane Dee Hull, said that there have been previous unsuccessful attempts made in the state legislature to lower the minimum blood-alcohol content.

Noyes said Hull is likely to support Clinton's directive.

"It's very possible that will come up in the legislature," Noyes said. "This is something she (Hull) is in favor of, in general."

John Morefield, a photography and architecture sophomore, said he also supports Clinton's decision.

In Morefield's native Seattle, the blood-alcohol content standard is set at .075, which he said keeps alcohol-related accidents down substantially.

"The more drunk drivers we can get off the road, the more lives we can save," he said. "That's why I walk to parties."

Liz Weslander, a Latin American studies graduate student, said more people would likely be penalized for driving under the influence based on the lower standard, even if a .08 blood alcohol content does not affect their driving.

However, she added that drinking and driving is still a punishable offense.

"More people are going to get in trouble," Weslander said. "But it's really their fault for drinking and driving in the first place."

Bob Rider, a psychology junior, said more emphasis should be placed on preventing people from becoming drunk before getting behind the wheel in the first place, rather than setting laws that would punish them after the fact.

"It's probably a good thing, but they're still not dealing with it the right way," said Rider, who suggested that alcohol-serving establishments be limited as to how many drinks they sell a person. "I think that people can drive on .10. I've driven on a lot worse, and I'm still alive."

Erick Scheu, a chemistry graduate student, agreed that tightening the standard is unnecessary.

"I thought it was fine before - just leave it up to the states," he said.