State warns drivers about stiffer DWI law

Posted: Monday, December 31, 2001

Alaskans driving home after celebrating too much tonight will have a greater chance of being arrested than those who hit the road under the influence last New Year's Eve.

A state law that went into effect four months ago lowered the blood-alcohol level at which a driver is presumed impaired from 0.10 percent to 0.08.

The change should be no secret. The state has been running newspaper and television ads reminding Alaskans about the lower blood-alcohol limit, which could mean an expensive DWI conviction. The federal government provided $68,060 for the ads so the state could warn drinkers about the new law, which took effect Sept. 1, said Alaska State Trooper spokesman Tim DeSpain.

The state rushed to get the ads out before the holidays.

The newspaper ad has a picture of a law enforcement officer in his car with the number 0.08 superimposed over the police car in bold type.

"Setting limits. Saving lives. Drive sober," is the message. It's being run in newspapers across the state. A similar television ad began airing in early December.

Michael Garrett, who owns a cab company in Fairbanks, got on the bandwagon with his own television ads.

"When you figure out cab fare as opposed to a DWI, it's a lot cheaper taking a cab," he said.

It's too soon to know whether the new law has curbed deaths attributed to motorists driving while intoxicated, according to DeSpain, or whether the state has made more drunken-driving arrests.

But national figures give hope to backers of the new law.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says the 27 or so states that have the 0.08 limit have fewer alcohol-related highway crashes and deaths. In the year 2000, 35 Alaskans died because of alcohol-related crashes, troopers said.

The Legislature passed the new drunken-driving law this year, in part in fear of losing federal highway funds.

Congress mandated that states that didn't lower the legal limit by Oct. 1, 2003, would lose 5 percent of the federal road money in the first year and 10 percent each year after 2004.

Aside from the ads, Alaska has received $668,000 from the federal government to enforce the drunken-driving laws.

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