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Clinton Seeks Drug Test for Teen License

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Clinton said Saturday he believes the federal government should ensure that anyone younger than 18 pass a drug test before receiving a driver’s license.

“I believe we should use the privilege of a driver’s license to demand responsible behavior by young people when it comes to drugs,” Clinton said in his weekly radio address. “We should say that teens should pass a drug test as a condition of getting a driver’s license. Our message should be simple: no drugs or no driver’s license.”

The proposal serves two purposes for Clinton: It responds to Republican criticism that his administration has been soft on drug abuse, and it appeals to families by addressing the problems they face in raising their children.

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Clinton said he has ordered Transportation Secretary Federico Pena and drug czar Barry R. McCaffrey to give him a plan in 90 days to enact a federal drug-test rule for teenage drivers similar to a federal rule that goes into effect Monday that essentially forces states to pass laws making it illegal for anyone under 21 to drive with even the smallest amount of alcohol in their bloodstream.

Additionally, that law will punish young drivers by suspending their licenses if they are caught drinking and driving. States risk losing a share of federal transportation money by refusing to adopt the “zero tolerance” law. In California, a law similar to the federal requirement has been in force since January 1994.

Clinton’s drug-test proposal is the latest in a string of similar election year proposals intended to make him appear active on issues that concern families, even if those issues are traditionally left to local communities to decide. They include his advocacy of a return to uniforms in public schools, the use of technology to screen out offensive television programming and the granting of federal tax credits for college tuition.

The drug proposal is not original, however. Among others, Gov. Pete Wilson, when serving as a U.S. senator, in June 1988 advocated legislation to require young people to pass a drug test before they are issued driver’s licenses.

The Dole campaign criticized Clinton’s announcement, calling it “political cynicism.” While embracing the substance of the initiative, the campaign charged that Clinton was clearly motivated to portray himself as a moderate who is hard-nosed on drug abuse.

In campaign appearances, Bob Dole has repeatedly criticized Clinton for failing to speak forcefully about the dangers of drug use and has accused the administration of being blind to the increasing numbers of young people who are trying and using drugs.

“His announcement today just proves that Bill Clinton would test positive for political cynicism,” Dole spokesman Nelson Warfield said Saturday in response to questions about the president’s radio speech. “He’s guilty of CWI--campaigning while impersonating a moderate.”

But White House officials said Clinton has been a leader on alcohol and drug abuse issues. They pointed to his June 1995 radio address, when he first urged passage of legislation demanding a “zero tolerance” policy for drinking and driving by youths.

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Congress responded to Clinton’s call by incorporating much of the White House proposal into the highway authorization bill last year. Under that federal rule, which Clinton mentioned in his Saturday address, states would revoke the driver’s license of anyone under age 21 found to have as little as 0.02% alcohol in their bloodstream. Most U.S. states define intoxication for purposes of a drunk driving arrest as 0.08% to 0.1% of alcohol in the bloodstream.

Under the 1994 California law, licenses can be suspended for any 16- or 17-year-old who has a blood-alcohol level of 0.01% or higher and for 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who have a blood-alcohol level of 0.05% or higher. The standard for adults is 0.08%.

In his radio address, Clinton took credit for the tough anti-drinking measure but urged Americans to exercise greater responsibility and self-control, especially to curb an alarming trend of rising drug abuse among young people.

“Drug use is down all across America, but unfortunately it is still rising among young people,” Clinton said, explaining his rationale for the new get-tough proposal. “Even though teen drug use is up, all the evidence is that 90% of our children are drug-free.”

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Administration sources said the proposal linking drug tests to applying for a driver’s license would apply to 16- and 17-year-olds, as well as 15-year-olds who are eligible for learner’s permits. The proposal wouldn’t apply, for example, to a 25-year-old driver, even if he or she were seeking a license for the first time.

Stressing the idea that government can provide opportunities only if Americans exercise responsibilities, Clinton pointed to an array of administration proposals to help families, including low-cost college loans, new scholarships, tax-free individual retirement account withdrawals for education costs, anti-gun programs in public schools and curbs on tobacco advertising directed at children.

“Our goal must be to help parents pass on their values to their children, to help children act responsibly to take charge of their lives and their futures,” Clinton said.

Times staff writer John M. Broder contributed to this story.


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