Action to promote strong governmental measures and educational programs to address the problem of the drinking driver. (1983 and 2001)
- A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) not to exceed 0.08 standing as both the legal definition of driving while intoxicated and absolute proof of guilt per se in alcohol-related driving offenses.
- The administration of BAC tests when there is a probable cause to believe that a driver is under the influence of alcohol.
- Courts and other agencies expediting the handling of alcohol-related driving offenses.
- Statewide guidelines for rehabilitation programs, which should be locally administered with costs shared by the offenders.
- Judges’ use of a variety of sentences for alcohol-related offenses.
Background: In May 1981 LWVMD adopted a study of drunk driving “to investigate methods of dealing with the problems associated with driving under the influence of intoxicating substances.” LWVMD study focused on several aspects of the drunk driving problem—e.g., the legislature's role, police procedures, court policies and procedures, and rehabilitation.
Our 1983 position supported a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.10 as legal evidence of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) This was the norm at the time, and reflected in state law. Delegates to the 2001 LWVMD Convention amended that position to support a BAC not to exceed 0.08 as evidence of DWI, again conforming to legislation enacted by the General Assembly in 2001. (Federal requirements to change the legal BAC limit for DWI ensured passage in order to keep transportation funding.) The BAC standard for Driving Under the Influence remains at 0.07.
League members worked in 1985 to enact legislation allowing a driver’s license to be suspended because of tests showing a high BAC, or for refusal to take breathalyzer or blood tests. We also supported legislation enacted in 1989 which makes a BAC higher than the legal limit evidence in itself (per se) of DWI. (Guilt is established by the breathalyzer and blood tests, with administrative sanctions occurring promptly).
Members agreed that police officers should administer BAC tests only when there was probable cause to believe there was a DWI offense. In 1990 authorities were allowed to administratively suspend licenses of drunk drivers who refused to submit to a BAC test or whose test results indicated a BAC at, or higher than, the legal limit. The legislature also required a person to submit to a drug test when detained on reasonable suspicion.
In 1995, the legislature passed an intoxicated per se measure which forces the court to focus only on the issue of whether or not the driver had a BAC at, or higher than, the legal limit at the time of testing. The bill also prohibited consideration of any other factor that might be relevant to the impairment and gave more enforcement powers to the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA). (No clear League consensus emerged for specific changes to procedures of the MVA.) Members agreed that there is a need for statewide rehabilitation program guidelines, local administration and offender-supported programs. State funding for such programs was not recommended since several Leagues felt local health departments and other agencies were doing a good job. Overwhelming consensus emerged to support tighter time requirements between the offense and the administration of sanctions. Members supported the use of pre-sentence investigations in drunk driving cases and advocated the use of alternative sentences. Consensus was not reached on the issues of mandatory sentencing and sobriety checkpoints.
In 1991 the legislature passed a bill which prohibits the courts from granting Probation Before Judgment (PBJ) to anyone guilty of drunk or drugged driving offenses within five years of being convicted or receiving a PBJ. Also in 1991, the legislature directed the MVA to investigate and report on drunk and drugged driving by juveniles and young adults.
Supported legislation making manslaughter by motor vehicle a felony (homicide by vehicle or vessel while intoxicated). (1997 – achieved).
LWVMD was not able to take action on legislation to strengthen the BAC standard because our 1983 consensus specifically called for a 0.10 BAC. The 2001 LWVMD Convention modified that position.