Lower Blood Alcohol Standard Approved

Times Staff Writer

A measure tightening the blood alcohol standard for drunk drivers won final Senate approval Wednesday and was sent to the governor for his probable signature.

If the bill is signed into law, California will become the fourth state to lower its drunk driving standard from the current .10% blood alcohol level to .08%.

"I don't want people arrested under this new standard," said the measure's author, Sen. Bill Leonard (R-Big Bear), after the vote. "I want them to drive more safely."

The bill, which would go into effect Jan. 1, passed the Senate for a second time as senators voted 23 to 3 to approve minor amendments added to the bill in the Assembly.

After the vote, opponents said that they believed that the current .10% blood alcohol level is strict enough and that there ought to be more stringent enforcement of existing law.

Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) argued that it would be difficult to enforce the lower blood alcohol level and urged support for his own measure, now before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. His bill would make it easier to take away the licenses of drivers convicted of drunk driving under the current standard.

Another opponent of dropping the standard, Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), said the .08% standard is "too stringent."

"I think the current standard is adequate," she said. Lowering the blood alcohol level would simply mean that more people would "get hassled," she said.

And Lockyer contended that some drinkers reach a blood alcohol level of .08% after only two beers.

However, Leonard said that such a high blood level after two beers would be unusual.

"It is possible for a very light-weight person, probably a female, with a great sensitivity to alcohol (to reach that level)," Leonard said.

Studies have shown that more typically it would take five drinks over a two-hour period for a 170-pound male to reach .08%, Leonard said.

"Medical studies show that at .02% there is loss of judgment," the lawmaker said. "By .08% everybody is impaired as a driver."

Has Given Support

Gov. George Deukmejian, who earlier this summer announced his support for the new standard, is likely to sign the Leonard bill, said the governor's deputy press secretary, Tom Beermann.

"Although the governor has not seen the Leonard bill and so has not commented on the specific provisions, he has indicated a general support for lowering the blood alcohol level," Beermann said.

A U.S. Department of Transportation study concluded that there "is ample scientific evidence" to justify reducing blood alcohol limits for drivers to .05% or lower, a standard enforced in some European countries.

Leonard quoted other studies concluding that close to 23,630 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in 1987 and that about 11% of those fatal accidents involved drivers with blood alcohol lower than the present state standard of .10%.

Oregon, Maine and Utah have already adopted the .08% standard, Leonard said.

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