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U.S. Transportation Secretary Slater: New Study Finds Decrease in Fatalities Following Illinois' .08 BAC Law

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Rodney E. Slater

U.S. Transportation Secretary Slater: New Study Finds Decrease in Fatalities Following Illinois' .08 BAC Law

September 21, 2000

NHTSA 39-00
Thursday, September 21, 2000
Contact: NHTSA, Kathryn Henry, (202) 366-9550

U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater today announced a new study by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which adds more compelling evidence that .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) laws significantly reduce fatalities.

"This study validates once again that a national standard of .08 BAC for drunk driving would save lives and prevent injuries," Secretary Slater said. "That is why I've urged Congress to enact sanctions withholding highway construction funds from states that do not adopt .08 BAC laws. Safety is President Clinton and Vice President Gore's highest transportation priority."

The study found that the new .08 BAC law in Illinois, effective in July 1997, was associated with a 13.7 percent decline in the number of drinking drivers involved in fatal crashes. The reduction included drivers at both high and low BAC levels.

"This is one more study that shows .08 BAC laws protect American families - they save lives and reduce injuries," said NHTSA Administrator, Dr. Sue Bailey.

The study, "Effectiveness of the Illinois .08 Law," also found no significant change in the number of alcohol-positive drivers involved in fatal crashes in the five neighboring states with .10 BAC laws during this time, and there was no negative impact on law enforcement, prosecution, or the courts following enactment of the .08 law.

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation conducted a time-series analysis, using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for the years from 1988-1998. It compared the experience in Illinois with that of five surrounding states: Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin, all of which have .10 BAC laws.

Earlier this week U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater called on Congress to make .08 BAC the legal national limit for impaired driving. At that time, Secretary Slater released a study which found that alcohol significantly impairs driving performance at .08 BAC regardless of age, gender, or current drinking practices of the test subject. The study reinforces the findings of several NHTSA studies examining the effectiveness of .08 BAC laws.

House and Senate conferees on the FY2001 transportation appropriations measure are scheduled to meet this week to resolve differences on funding and policy issues between the House and Senate bills. One of the key items in the Senate bill is a provision to make .08 BAC the national standard for impaired driving. The provision calls for withholding a portion of states' highway construction funds if they do not pass a .08 BAC law within three years. The Department of Transportation and the White House strongly support this legislation.

An important precedent was set by Congress when it passed a similar withholding provision for zero tolerance of underage drinking. As a result of that provision, 25 states changed their laws within three years to join the 25 that had already adopted the provision.

Similar sanctions also prompted many states to adopt minimum age drinking laws and set 21 years old as the national standard for a legal drinking age. These laws have saved nearly 10,000 lives since 1988 when all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico universally adopted this standard.

Alcohol is a major factor in fatal crashes, and was involved in 15,786 traffic fatalities in 1999, down from 16,020 in 1998.

A copy of "Effectiveness of the Illinois .08 Law" can be found on NHTSA's web site at http://www.nhtsa.gov/nhtsa/announce/press/www.nhtsa.dot.gov.


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