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Some say 'cheers' to lowered DUI limit while others find fault



Published: Sun, April 13, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The threshold for legal intoxication will be lowered in a few months.

& lt;a href=mailto:meade@vindy.com & gt;By PATRICIA MEADE & lt;/a & gt;

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Today, a 200-pound man chugs back 31/2 cans of beer (plus a sip) to reach the legal DUI limit.

Beginning July 1, he'll be too drunk to drive at a sip under three cans.

Until July 1, the blood-alcohol content limit in Ohio is .10. After that, it's .08.

By lowering the BAC, Ohio moves into compliance with a federal mandate. Without the change, the state would lose 2 percent in highway funding each year.

Officials in Columbus estimate the loss in highway funds at $12 million for 2004; $24 million in 2005; and peaking at $49 million in 2007 and thereafter.

"It's ridiculous," says Youngstown attorney Damian A. Billak. "The law is overly restrictive -- at .08 it will punish those who have a glass or two of wine at dinner."

Billak's estimate was close: A 125-pound woman can reach .08 BAC with just a sip under 11/2 glasses of wine. If her companion is a 175-pound man, he'd reach the .08 BAC limit with two glasses of wine, plus a gulp.

The estimates are based on a formula that takes sex and body weight into account. On average, a person will eliminate about .02 percent of the alcohol in their system per hour.

"It's a shame when justice becomes about money," Billak said of the federal mandate. "It shows the Draconian slant of the Legislature."

MADD data

Janet Duricy, president of the Mahoning-Trumbull County Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter, disagreed, pointing out that it was not MADD's idea to tie the new BAC limit to transportation funds -- it was President Clinton's. The Legislature, she said, acted after being made aware that lives could be saved.

Duricy said MADD's data show that the average female who consumes three to four drinks and the average male who consumes four to six drinks will register .08 BAC.

"That's not social drinking, that's drinking to get drunk," she said. Social drinking would be two drinks with dinner, she said.

Drunken driving, Duricy said, is the most often committed crime nationwide.

At .08 BAC, vision, perception and motor skills are impaired, said Sgt. Rick Brown at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Canfield post. He predicted "considerably more" arrests when the new limit takes effect.

MADD will like the new law and bar owners will hate it, Brown said.

States that have already enacted the .08 BAC haven't seen a reduction in alcohol sales but they have seen a reduction in fatalities, Duricy said. Bars won't lose money -- not if a party of four, for example, has one designated driver in the group, she said.

The trend

Over the past 19 years at Trax Lounge in Austintown, the bar shrunk, said Barb Notareschi, who owns and operates the popular bar-eatery on New Road with her husband, Pat.

Even before the push to lower the BAC limit, Notareschi said she and her husband saw the trend to less drinking. With that in mind, they increased the size of the restaurant, taking space away from the bar area.

"I would never want to see anyone hurt -- we've taken people home and taken keys away," Notareschi said. "Ninety-nine percent of our customers are regulars, we know their limits, and we gladly take them home, no matter where they live."

The new law, she said, will likely create more closet drinkers -- those who drink at home because a couple of drinks out may put them over the limit. Business could pick up at liquor stores and drive-throughs and drop at bars, she said.

Keeps on dropping

John F. Shultz says he's been practicing law long enough to remember when the BAC limit was .15 in 1980. The goal, he said, appears to be to prohibit everyone from drinking and driving and expose drivers to more criminal penalties.

Shultz said it's very suspect when police, after 1:30 a.m., stop cars for "weaving." At that hour, the likelihood exists that the driver has been at a bar, he said.

Brown said he understands people will be upset with the new limit, as they were when it dropped from .15 to .10. "People don't see what we see -- when [a drunken driver] takes a life or maims someone innocent."

Shultz said he hasn't seen any scientific evidence to show that a person's driving is impaired at .08.

Duricy said MADD has extensive data from the Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio State Highway Patrol to show that, at .08 BAC, a driver is completely incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle. By the time all 50 states are on board, the lower limit will save 500 lives each year, she said.

& lt;a href=mailto:meade@vindy.com & gt;meade@vindy.com & lt;/a & gt;




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