Pennsylvania legislators are moving to pass a bill being hailed as a national model for both treating and punishing drunken drivers, while reducing alcohol-fueled accidents, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The bill was approved yesterday by the Senate and is expected to pass the House and become law next week.
It will lower the legal blood-alcohol limit for motorists from 0.10 to 0.08 and create a first-in-the-nation law that imposes increasingly harsher penalties on drunken drivers based on their blood-alcohol content. The three-tiered penalty system expands treatment programs and stiffens fines and jail terms for “hard-core” drunk drivers. “It’s a whole new way of doing business,” said Rebecca Shaver of the Pennsylvania chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
A motorist with a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 or higher will get a mandatory one-year prison sentence on a third offense. Now, drivers get 90 days for a third offense, regardless of the blood-alcohol content. The bill would require mandatory alcohol treatment even for first-time offenders in some cases. The rate of drunk-driving deaths has increased 5 percent in Pennsylvania over 11 years, while the numbers have leveled out in other states. In 2001, 663 people were killed in drunken-driving accidents in Pennsylvania; chronic drunken drivers were involved in almost half those deaths.
The liquor industry continues to argue that the .08 cutoff is too harsh. “We support responsible driving but we don’t believe .08 is targeting the drunk driver. You’re not drunk at .08,” said Amy Christie of the Pennsylvania Tavern Association. “These aren’t the people who are causing the fatal accidents.”