New DWI law's effects being felt

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The effects of Missouri's new drunken driving law already are being felt after the first weekend it was in place.

The measure passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Bob Holden earlier this year went into effect Saturday, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol reported five arrests under the law during its first two days.

The law lowers the legal blood-alcohol content for drivers to 0.08 percent from 0.10 percent and stiffens penalties for repeat offenders.

Capt. Chris Ricks, spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said the five arrests were among a total of 61 driving-while-intoxicated citations issued by the patrol this past weekend.

But Ricks said the arrests would have been made anyway.

State law has long allowed drunken driving arrests for people whose blood-alcohol level is at least 0.05 percent, but prosecutors must present more evidence for a conviction.

The threshold of 0.08 percent -- or 0.10 percent in the past -- is considered enough proof alone for a conviction.

"Indications from our officers are that all five people would have been arrested for DWI anyway," Ricks said. "Now, if you take these cases to court, the lower level is all you need."

One of 27 states

Missouri is one of 27 states that have enacted 0.08 legislation. All will share in $500 million in federal grants over the next six years.

Generally, it would take 4.5 drinks an hour to reach 0.08 percent for a 180 pound-man, versus almost six drinks to reach 0.10 percent, according to the state Highway Patrol. For a 130-pound woman, it would take 3.5 drinks to reach 0.08 percent and 4.25 drinks to reach 0.10 percent.

Gov. Bob Holden, who was honored Monday by Mother's Against Drunk Driving for his role in getting the measure passed, said most drivers are aware of the law.

"I already think you're seeing noticeable differences because of people's awareness," Holden said. "People are aware that the law has changed, and I think that in itself will be a benefit."

Holden said with a smile: "The law is in effect and it's working."

Roger Stottlemyre, superintendent of the Highway Patrol, said he was encouraged by the arrests.

"That means we've probably saved some lives out there," Stottlemyre said.

Second-time offenders

The law mandates that second-time drunken driving offenders serve at least five days in jail or perform 30 days of community service, up from the current two days in jail or 10 days of community service. For subsequent offenses, violators must serve at least 10 days in jail or 60 days of community service.

The old law did not contain harsher minimum sentences for repeat offenders.

The new law also mandates treatment for drivers who are arrested with at least a 0.15 percent blood-alcohol level.

The law contains a $25 fee on drunken driving arrests for spinal cord research, and it allows ignition interlock devices on vehicles operated by people convicted of drunken driving. The devices lock steering wheels until the drivers pass an attached breath test.

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