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Lower BAC becomes law in Missouri.

Associated Press--Gov. Bob Holden signed a law Tuesday lowering the blood-alcohol limit for drunken drivers in Missouri to 0.08 percent, a measure expected to save both lives and millions of dollars in federal funds for the state's pothole-marred highways.

The law, which will lower the legal limit from its current level of 0.10 percent, goes into effect Sept. 29.

"Today is truly a momentous day in Missouri," Holden said in a signing ceremony at the Kansas City Police Department, where he was surrounded by police officers, politicians and anti-drunken driving activists. "Because of our action, more lives will be saved on Missouri highways."

The new law also increases penalties for repeat offenders and mandates treatment programs for drivers with BAG levels of 0.15 percent or higher.

States with 0.08 limits show a 6 percent to 8 percent reduction in alcohol-related traffic deaths, according to the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. There were more than 400 alcohol-related fatal car wrecks in Missouri in 1999, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent is the point at which "virtually everyone is seriously impaired, affecting all of the basic critical driving skills," according to the NHTSA.

Missouri is the 28th state to enact the 0.08 limit.

Proponents had been trying to pass the law for 10 years, and the state had paid a multimillion-dollar price for failing to do so--a price that would have been even higher had the General Assembly not acted.

Since 1998, Missouri has lost $9 million in federal highway construction funds because it did not have a 0.08 blood-alcohol limit.

In 2003, another federal law will deprive states without the 0.08 limit of more highway funds. That would have cost Missouri $8.1 million. By 2007, the percentage loss would have increased to 8 percent, which would have cost Missouri $32.4 million.

In a state in which the condition of roads and highways is a major political issue, that money was seen as too important to lose.

That threat finally changed the tide in Jefferson City. In the past, proponents of the 0.08 limit routinely were thwarted by Missouri's restaurant and liquor lobbies, most notably the St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos. The world's largest brewery is one of Missouri's largest political contributors and is considered one of the most powerful forces in Jefferson City.

Only when A-B in January reversed its opposition to the measure did passage become likely. Company officials said they did not want Missouri to lose its highway funds.

Even then, many Missouri lawmakers remained wary of what they saw as a heavy-handed federal mandate and of a perceived criminalization of social drinking.

The proposal passed the state Senate on the last day of the legislative session, a day after passing in the House.

Kansas City leads Missouri in alcohol-related accidents and in convicted drunken drivers who continue to drive. The new law will help keep drunken drivers off the streets, said Sgt. Kim Hannan, supervisor of the Kansas City Police Department's DUI unit.

"We still made arrests on people who were 0.08, because they were impaired," Hannan said. "They usually got kicked out of court. ...It's going to make a big difference."

Many at the ceremony said they hoped the new law also would change people's behavior by making them less likely to take that next drink.

"Every time we've increased the penalties, there's been a public perception that it's not going to be as lenient, that you have to be more responsible, and I think that's all for the positive," said Rep. Craig Hosmer, a Springfield Democrat who helped lead the legislative fight for the law.

Hosmer called the new law "a huge step forward," and its importance was reflected in Holden's statewide bill-signing tour. There were signing ceremonies in Springfield, Joplin and Cape' Girardeau, as well as Kansas City.

Even as Hosmer and others celebrated their victory after a decadelong fight, they already were looking for ways to further reduce drunken driving in Missouri. The next likely target the law allowing open containers of alcohol in vehicles.

Missouri will lose $10 million a year in federal highway construction funds because it allows open containers and because its penalties for repeat offenders do not meet federal standards, said Chris Bauman, Holden's assistant legal counsel. Holden has said he would support a ban on open containers. An Anheuser-Busch lobbyist called the proposed ban "idiotic."

"That's another fight for another session," Holden spokesman Jerry Nachtigal said.
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Title Annotation:blood-alcohol level
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 18, 2001
Words:756
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