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Tuesday January 16, 2001

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State House may set lower extreme DUI levels

By Eric Swedlund

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Lower limit comes 3 months after Clinton tightens national DUI standards

PHOENIX - A new definition of extreme DUI before state lawmakers would lower the legal blood alcohol limit from 0.18 to 0.15.

House bill 2006 passed through the Arizona House transportation committee yesterday by a vote of 10-0 and now moves to the House floor.

Rep. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, the bill sponsor, said that it is aimed at "hard-core" drinkers and repeat offenders.

Gray said research has shown that extremely drunk drivers are 380 times

more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than average drivers.

Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said that at 0.15, a person is not borderline, but undoubtedly impaired.

"This is an issue of extreme importance to our families and children," he said. "This is a dignified, responsible law."

Philip MacDonnell, an attorney representing the Arizona Wholesale Beer and Liquor Association, spoke before the committee in opposition of the bill.

"It's not that we disagree with the goal of decreasing the accidents caused by DUI, but where we're going with this bill is losing focus," he said. "The purpose of extreme DUI is to focus on the hard-core drinker, but when we lower it to 0.15, we lose focus."

MacDonnell argued that although hard-core drunk drivers cause a disproportionate amount of serious accidents and deaths, the provisions of

the bill fail to target the intended offenders.

"If we need to raise the penalties, let's do that, but the strategy of lowering the limit doesn't make sense," he said.

Rep. Dean Cooley, R-Mesa, said the 0.18 statute is not being prosecuted, which necessitates the change. He added that the original 1998 extreme DUI proposal set the limit at 0.15, but that was changed to 0.18 as legislators debated the statute.

Pearce said that since lawmakers have taken a new attitude to dealing with

extreme DUI, they have seen a dramatic decrease in alcohol-related highway


"You may treat the alcoholism, but I want to punish the driving," he said. "There's no excuse for driving impaired at any level."

Pearce added that everybody is impaired with a blood alcohol content of

0.08 - the nationwide limit President Bill Clinton set in October - and that nobody has any business driving at nearly twice that level.

"This is not something you do by accident," he said. "You know you're

putting yourself and others at risk and it is wrong."

Countering MacDonnell's assertions that the law enforcement system will

become clogged because of the new limits, Pearce said the law would have a

greater public acceptance.

"Our jail population will not dramatically increase," he said. "What you

will see is a different attitude."

Gray said research shows the majority of drunk drivers are men between the ages of 25 and 45, and that most habitual law-breakers start in their early 20s.

A first offense would require 30 days in jail and a fine of at least $250,

while a second offense mandates 120 days in jail and a $500 fine.

At an age when partying and binge drinking can be a focus of some college

students, Gray said an extreme DUI conviction "pretty much destroys a

young person's start in life."

UA students, however, had mixed reactions to Gray's bill.

"I don't think people should be persecuted more because they drink a beer or a beer and a half over the legal limit," said Sarah McEndree, an accounting and finance freshman.

"It seems unfair because it just seems like it makes it easier to get caught," said Josh Colker, a pre-education sophomore.

Alyson Beste, a language and culture freshman, said lowering the extreme DUI measure will create safer streets.

"I think its good because it is safer for everyone on the road. People should not drink and drive at all," she said.

Steve Tyrrell, executive director of Arizona Mothers Against Drunk

Driving, agreed, saying that to get to 0.15 BAC requires a significant amount of

drinking and subsequently a significant level of impairment.

"This stuff doesn't happen by accident. When you mix alcohol and drivers, it's a bad recipe," he said. "Lowering the extremes puts the focus exactly where it should be."



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