LANSING (AP) - Along with losing $50 million in federal funding, Michigan would likely see its drunken-driving accidents and deaths increase if a 2003 law that lowered the legal blood-alcohol limit for driving is allowed to expire this year, police and other supporters told lawmakers Wednesday.
Due to a sunset provision in current state law, the legal limit for drivers' blood-alcohol content is set to revert back to 0.10 in October from the current 0.08. But two bills taken up by the House Criminal Justice Committee aim to stop the impending change.
Several groups, including Michigan State Police and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, are supporting the legislation. Sherry McGee, MADD's executive director in Michigan, said the state's decision to reduce the lower the limit to 0.08 in 2003 was "directly responsible" for a 25 percent drop in drunken driving deaths across the state.
James Carmody, police chief for Wyoming, Mich., added that since the limit was lowered, people have become more cautious when they drink and more likely to choose alternative modes of transportation.
Plus, the law is tied to a hefty amount of federal money. In 2000, the federal government set the national legal blood-alcohol content limit at 0.08, and encouraged states to do the same by tying the laws to federal highway construction funding.
That means if the legislation isn't passed, the state could lose $50 million in federal funding for the state's transportation system by violating national drunken-driving standards, said Kelly Bartlett, director of governmental affairs for the Michigan Department of Transportation.
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Bartlett noted that Gov. Rick Snyder is already seeking $1.2 billion to fix the state's ailing roads and bridges. He said the loss of the federal dollars "would only compound the problem."
Sgt. Dwayne Gill, legislative liaison for Michigan State Police, told the committee that multiple studies show a person's driving skills, such as steering, changing lanes and ability to react, become impaired when they reach the 0.08 level.
McGee said a man would have to drink five or more drinks in a two hour period to reach a 0.08 blood-alcohol content. A woman would have to drink about four drinks in the same period. She said that "dispels the myth" that a driver can be arrested for drunk driving "after having just a beer at a ballgame or a glass of champagne at a wedding."
No one testified against the bills, which would keep the legal driving limit at 0.08 and maintain current sentencing guidelines for those arrested for drunken driving. The committee is expected to vote next week.