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States to stiffen DUI penalties

October 25, 2000

President Bill Clinton signed a bill Monday to set tougher standards for drunken driving.

The new law requires states to impose a .08 percent blood alcohol content standard as the legal level for drunken driving by the year 2004. States that don’t enforce the law will begin to lose millions of dollars a year in federal highway funds.

Michigan’s legal level for drunken driving has been .10 percent.

In 1999, 15,786 traffic deaths were attributed to drunken driving. The new law will hopefully prevent 500 highway deaths a year, Clinton said.

“To me, personally, when you talk about saving 500 lives, that is a no-brainer,” said Shirley Walker, state chair for MADD Michigan. “One life is precious, but if you had all the states with .08 percent blood alcohol (regulation) you would save 500 (people).”

East Lansing police Capt. Juli Liebler agrees the new law could cut back on drunken driving deaths.

“My personal experience as a patrol officer is that one of the first senses you lose (when drunk) is your judgment,” Liebler said. “Hopefully, with the new law, people will drink less and not get behind the wheel.”

But many people say the new law won’t have much of an impact in East Lansing.

“Once people start drinking they don’t think about their blood alcohol content,” said David Carter, a criminal justice professor and director of the National Center for Community Policing. “I don’t think there will be a staggering difference in drinking in East Lansing.”

Some opponents of the law say it will only catch social drinkers but not those with heavy drinking problems. Others think the law will do its job to stop potential accidents.

“The key is to keep people off the road that may cause accidents,” Carter said. “It doesn’t matter if it is the first time someone has had a drink or if they are alcoholics.”

MSU students agree with Carter.

Since many students walk to bars, the new laws won’t affect East Lansing as much as other cities, said Andrea Staskiewicz, a psychology sophomore.

“I can’t see the law having that big of an impact,” Staskiewicz said. “With the way people drink around here, either they are really drunk and stupid or they are not going to drive.”

Other students say MSU students won’t even think twice about the new law.

“Students are going to do what they want to do,” said Mary Anne Van Camp, an accounting freshman. “It won’t matter to the people drinking if there is a new law or not.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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