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What’s New - August 2000

Legislative and Other News in the DUI Prevention Community

August 2000 Update 

  1. Illegal Blood Alcohol Levels Could Change
  2. Vice-President Al Gore Speaks Out for Lowering Legal BAC Nationwide
  3. Illinois Governor George Ryan calls on lawmakers to reform drunken driving penalties
  4. Montana Woman given 30-year term for 8th DUI
  5. Holy DUI! Batmobile Captures Georgia Drunken Drivers!
  6. Justice Department and MADD Announce Expanded Battle Against Underage Drinking in America
  7. New Jersey Town Bans Drivers' Cell Phones
  8. Interlock system helps keep DWI offenders and others safe

Illegal Blood Alcohol Levels Could Change  

CHARLESTON, WV, July 27 - Blood alcohol levels are different from state to state. In West Virginia and Ohio it's .10, but in Kentucky it's .08. Now there's a push to make all states .08 so that drunk drivers face the same consequences wherever they drive.

Right now only 18 states have a blood alcohol content of .08. Research shows there are fewer drunk drivers on the roads in those states.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving want all states to have the same blood alcohol level; .08. That's a tougher law than what is currently on the books in West Virginia. If states don't comply, they would suffer the consequences.

"If a state chose not to drop it to .08 it would have to give up some federal highway dollars and in a state like West Virginia, we can't afford to do that," says Bill Woodrum, executive director of MADD of WV.

Parents like Warren Estes feel this would make our roads safer.

"You would be taking a lot of people who think they're not drunk, which they are, off the road and save a lot of other people's lives," Estes says.

Nancy Naylor believes lowering the blood alcohol level would be unfair.

"If you lower it, individuals won't have the independence to frequent restaurants that have lounges and bars to have wine or a cocktail," Naylor says. Zane Garrett is a manager at a bar and restaurant in Charleston. He supports the change but doesn't think it's going to change people's drinking habits.

"I don't think it would hurt our business at all because people are still going to come out to eat and drink and have a good time," Garrett says.

Lawmakers from the U.S. House and Senate will discuss changing the blood alcohol limit so it's the same in every state. The Senate included the .08 change in one of its bills but the House didn't. The two sides will meet to iron out their differences. If this becomes legislation, states that don't comply could lose federal highway dollars.

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Vice-President Al Gore Speaks Out for Lowering Legal BAC Nationwide


WASHINGTON, D.C. July 27 - More than 40,000 fatalities occur on our nation's roads each year, and over 15,000 of those result from alcohol-related accidents. The legislation before Congress to help establish a national legal blood-alcohol limit of .08 BAC is a substantial step in making our nation's highways safer. Currently 18 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have adopted .08 BAC as the legal limit. These jurisdictions have experienced a reduction in alcohol related traffic deaths by 8 percent.

The safety of the American people is the Administration's highest priority, and we have worked hard to include this initiative in the Senate Transportation Appropriation Bill. I commend the Senate for passing this legislation that includes the .08 BAC provision. The thousands of mothers, members of MADD and other safety advocates also deserve special praise for all they have done to promote sensible measures that help reduce drunk driving. By adopting uniform drunk driving standards, hundreds of lives can be saved each year, and thousands of injuries can be prevented. That is why I urge Congress to make a lower national legal blood-alcohol limit the law of the land.

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Illinois Governor George Ryan calls on lawmakers to reform drunken driving penalties

Jul. 10, 2000

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) -- Gov. George Ryan said judges and lawmakers should consider more stringent measures to curb repeat drunken driving in Illinois.

His ideas range from making treatment or counseling a mandatory sentence for those convicted of driving under the influence to revamping laws that allow first-time offenders to wipe their records clean.

Ryan responded to a statewide study by the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald that found that more than 160 people had at least five DUI convictions between 1996 and 1999. Almost 5,400 people had two or more DUI convictions in that period. And more than 185,000 drivers have logged more than one conviction or court action since record keeping began.

As secretary of state, Ryan successfully lobbied lawmakers to lower Illinois' blood-alcohol limit for DUI convictions from .10 to .08. But he said he is outraged at the court system's treatment of multiple offenders.

``They walk out of the courthouse after seeing the judge, get in their car and drive away,'' Ryan said. ``The judge ought to ask him, 'How'd you get here today? How are you leaving here today?' and 'Who's driving?'''

Ryan suggested lawmakers rethink court supervision -- a finding of guilt that is not treated as a conviction by the legal system and that is kept off public driving records -- for DUI offenders. Anti-drunken driving activists want to abolish supervision for DUI offenders, but some lawyers believe supervisions deter some first-time offenders from driving drunk again.

Patrick McGann, the supervising judge for the Chicago Traffic Center, said jail time should be a part of the conditions of supervision. But he said probation and alcohol intervention efforts outside of jail should be used more often in dealing with repeat drunken drivers.

The Daily Herald also found that a group of 10 of the worst repeat drunken drivers habitually drove without valid licenses. McGann said lawmakers should consider holding auto salespeople liable for selling cars to drivers with bad records in much the same way some governments are considering holding weapons dealers liable for selling guns to criminals.

``This is a societal issue, and all of us have to get involved,'' McGann said.

A new program that includes extensive drug and psychological testing as well as a more thorough examination of DUI offenders' records was beginning Monday for offenders within the city, McGann said.

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Montana Woman given 30-year term for 8th DUI


Anne Palmersheim, who pleaded guilty to her eighth offense of drunken driving in May, was sentenced Monday to 30 years in the Montana Women's Prison, with all but 13 months suspended.

Yellowstone County Deputy Attorney John Petak said later in the day that he believes Palmersheim will have to be resentenced.

Palmersheim appeared Monday morning for the sentencing before District Judge G. Todd Baugh. Baugh initially postponed the sentencing for a week because Palmersheim's lawyer, Billings attorney David Duke, wasn't in the courtroom. Duke showed up just before the court session ended, and Baugh proceeded with the sentencing. Petak said his office recommended a sentence of seven years at the women's prison, with two years suspended.

Because Palmersheim had been convicted of a second felony within five years of the first, the county attorney's office charged her as a persistent felony offender. That means Palmersheim should have been sentenced to be incarcerated not less than five years and not more than 100 years, Petak said.

Instead, Baugh sentenced Palmersheim to 30 years with all but 13 months suspended, four years of supervised probation and 25 years of unsupervised probation.

Petak said Baugh was made aware of the persistent felony offender designation, and said it would be up to the judge to decide what to do. Petak said under state law, Palmersheim's attorney could seek an exception to the mandatory minimum sentencing law.

Palmersheim, of 512 Miles Ave., was arrested on her eighth DUI offense on Feb. 7 after she ran her car into a bathtub in a yard in the 1000 block of Broadwater Avenue. Officers found an uninjured Palmersheim still in her car, which was sitting partially on top of the tub.

According to court records, when the police officer asked what happened, Palmersheim said she didn't do it. Officers sprayed Palmersheim with pepper spray after she kicked the windows of the patrol car while on the way to the jail. She pleaded guilty on May 8 and admitted that what she had done was wrong.

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Holy DUI! Batmobile Captures Georgia Drunken Drivers!

LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- In the movies, the Batmobile is a souped up, crime-fighting sports car the fictional character Batman uses to conquer evil villains.

In Georgia, a real-life Batmobile also is conquering crime. The converted recreational vehicle isn't capable of reaching high speeds, but the compact police station on wheels is so fast that it's like arresting a drunken person staggering in front of the jail.

The mobile command unit from Clayton County made an appearance in Northwest Georgia during a two-day sobriety checkpoint Saturday and Sunday. Authorities made 12 DUI arrests, 14 misdemeanor drug arrests and issued 200 warnings.

"The Batmobile proved to be indispensable," said Sgt. Don Stultz with the State Patrol. "The actual number of DUIs for one day is twice to three times more than what we would arrest in a normal's day work."

The "Bat" in the word Batmobile is an acronym for Blood Alcohol Testing. The mobile is a state-of-the-art unit deployed for on-site testing and detention at checkpoints. It is equipped with a Breathalyzer, an instrument which measures the concentration of alcohol in the body, a holding facility, privacy area for booking, a radio and telephone.

Cameras are mounted on the roof to videotape every move. The unit is one of three Batmobiles that will roam Georgia's 159 counties searching for drunken drivers.

It is all part of Gov. Roy Barnes' campaign that began July 1 to reduce traffic fatalities and use education to heighten the public's awareness about drunken driving.

The vehicles are owned by the Governor's Office of Safety in Atlanta. Last year, nearly 1,600 people died on Georgia's roadways. The program is funded through a $1 million federal grant obtained by Georgia and Tennessee authorities.

Sgt. Stultz said motorists can expect sobriety checkpoints at least once a month somewhere in Georgia.

LaFayette Post Commander Carlton Stallings said that half of all accidents involving teen-agers are alcohol-related, and one in three fatalities involve alcohol. He said the economic impact is $45 billion a year due to crash-related costs including property damage, civil lawsuits and insurance claims.

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Justice Department and MADD Announce Expanded Battle Against Underage Drinking in America

New Study Reveals $58 Billion Price Tag Associated with Underage Drinking

WASHINGTON, D.C. -The Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) today announced a new partnership to mobilize youth and law enforcement officers in 14 communities in a stepped-up fight against underage drinking. The communities are: Austin, TX; Bismarck, ND; Boston, MA; Charleston, WV; Las Vegas, NV; Long Island, NY; Menasha, WI; Nashville, TN; New Haven, CT; Omaha, NE; Providence, RI; St. Paul, MN; Tampa, FL and Vero Beach, FL.

OJJDP and MADD also released a new study showing that the costs of underage drinking in America totals more than $58 billion annually. Earlier research had shown that underage drinking is the nation's largest youth drug problem, killing 6.5 times more young people than all other illicit drugs combined.

"The price of underage drinking is staggering in dollars and in the loss and destruction of human lives," said OJJDP Administrator Shay Bilchik. "We all must work together at the national, state, and local levels to tackle this problem."

OJJDP and MADD announced the partnership and the study in conjunction with the start of the first-ever National Leadership Conference on Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws being held this week (July 12 -14) in Reston, Virginia. OJJDP will assist MADD in expanding its existing "Youth in Action" campaign into the 14 communities as part of its $25 million Enforcing the Underage Drinking Laws Program, which includes state block grants, discretionary grants and training and technical assistance. There are currently 12 Youth in Action sites.

"Alcohol is the number one drug of choice among our nation's youth, and it is costing our society an average of $577.91 per year for every household in the United States," said Karolyn Nunnallee, National President of MADD. "It's time for our nation's youth to join forces with our law enforcement community to change the social environment that condones illegal alcohol consumption as an accepted rite of passage. We are grateful to OJJDP for their partnership and support."

MADD began the Youth in Action campaign in 1996 to directly involve young people in policy and enforcement efforts to stem the tide of underage drinking. The campaign encourages youth groups to team up with law enforcement agencies to combat illegal alcohol sales to minors, conduct merchant compliance stings, curb fake IDs on the Internet, and raise public awareness about parental liability issues related to serving alcohol to minors.

The new study, Underage Drinking: Immediate Consequences and their Costs, was developed by the Pacific Institute through a grant from OJJDP. The study broke down the costs of alcohol use by youth as follows:

Traffic crashes $18,200,000,000
Violent crime $35,900,000,000
Burns $315,000,000
Drownings $532,000,000
Suicide attempts $1,510,000,000
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome $493,000,000
Alcohol poisonings $340,000,000
Treatment $1,008,000,000
TOTAL = $58,379,000,000

The study also indicated that raising the minimum purchase age for alcohol to 21 throughout the country has been a successful strategy for reducing alcohol use and preventing related problems. Since 1975, minimum drinking age laws have prevented more than 17,000 traffic fatalities. MADD spearheaded the effort resulting in passage of the National Uniform Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. Today, all 50 states have minimum drinking age laws set at 21. The study released today shows, however, that, despite tougher laws, minors still drink - and their drinking often results in serious health and social problems.

Copies of Underage Drinking: Immediate Consequences and their Costs and the OJJDP fact sheet Enforcing the Underage Drinking Laws Program, as well as information about other OJJDP publications, programs and conferences, are available through the OJJDP Website at and from OJJDP's Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20857. The toll-free number is 1-800/638-8736. Copies of the study are also available through the Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center Website at

Information about other Office of Justice Programs (OJP) bureaus and program offices is available at Media should contact OJP's Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at 202/307-0703.

Information about MADD is available at or by calling 214-744-6233

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New Jersey Town Bans Drivers' Cell Phones

July 14, 2000

MARLBORO, N.J. (AP) -- Marlboro Township has become the first community in New Jersey to prohibit the use of hand-held cellular phones while driving. The Township Council voted 4-0 Thursday night in favor of the ban. Mayor Matthew Scannapieco signed the ordinance a short time later.

Under the ban, anyone caught driving with a hand-held cell phone is subject to a fine of up to $250. Hands-free cell phones are permitted, however.

"It is in the public interest to prevent injuries and save lives, and if I can save just one life with this ordinance, then I'll have done my job as an elected official," council Vice President Barry Denkensohn said.

The council's vote came two days after a Pennsylvania judge struck down a similar ordinance, ruling that Hilltown Township did not have the power to pre-empt state motor vehicle laws.

Brooklyn, Ohio, enacted the country's first such law last March. Opponents of the Marlboro ban called it a costly endeavor.

"Your hearts are in the right places, but it's not the purpose of government to protect everyone from everything in life," said resident Mark Rosenwald, 51.

A 1997 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that talking on a phone while driving quadrupled the risk of an accident and was almost as dangerous as being drunk behind the wheel

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Interlock system helps keep DWI offenders and others safe

If you are driving and see someone in another car blowing into what appears to be a cell phone, don't panic. You're not losing your mind. The other driver is probably taking part in a program to keep people convicted of drunken driving from taking to the road while intoxicated.

The device, called an interlock system, is a small breath analyzer that keeps a car from starting if alcohol is detected. It attaches to a car's electrical system much as a theft-deterrent alarm does. A driver taking part in the program as part of a parole or probation program is required to blow into the device before he can start the car.

About 40,000 of these devices are currently in use in the United States, but they may soon become even more commonplace. A new federal law requires that states take tougher steps against drivers repeatedly convicted of drunken driving. States, which stand to lose federal transportation money if they fail to comply, must require either complete immobilization of an offender's vehicle or the installation of an interlock system. With millions of dollars at stake, at least 36 states have already complied.

The devices, which are more sensitive than some breath analyzers used by police, can sense very small quantities of alcohol - so small that users are cautioned not to use mouthwash, breath sprays or cough syrups before a test. When the analyzer detects alcohol, the car's ignition switch is disabled, and the car cannot be started until the test is passed.

If a car is started, the device periodically requires that the driver take another, rolling, test, to make sure the driver did not have someone else start the car and is not drinking while driving. If the driver ignores the beeping sounds that the device emits when it is time for a retest, the system will cause the car's lights to flash on and off. After two more minutes, the car's horn starts beeping. If the driver continues to ignore the retest request, a violation is recorded in the device. In most interlock models, the system goes into "early recall" mode after three such violations. This means that the driver has 72 hours to bring the device - and the car - into a service center. In addition to alerting the driver that a test is needed, the flashing lights and honking horn are designed to alert police and other drivers that the person may be under the influence.

The cost of the installation and monthly rental, which are paid for by the offender, vary from state to state. In New York, the installation costs $60 and the rental fee is $2.14 per day or about $65 each month, but the fee is small compared with the amount some users spend each month on alcohol, said Richard Freund, president of LifeSafer Interlock, one of seven companies that manufacture the devices. "A heavy drinker might spend $16 to $20 per day on beer or drinks after work," he said.

The system may sound cumbersome, but it is extremely useful to people who have lost their licenses and would not be able to legally drive without the program.

"It doesn't even bother me anymore," said Bob Seiber, a contractor from Selden, N.Y., who has been on the program for six months. "I just blow into the interlock in the morning, and my truck starts right up."

Seiber has LifeSafer's small black device installed in his truck. It looks like a cell phone, with a series of lights on the front and a small opening on the top with a disposable plastic mouthpiece.

Recently, the LifeSafer device was upgraded to require users to hum or speak while blowing into it, making it difficult for anyone to thwart the system with a can of compressed air or an air-filled balloon.

Once a month, Seiber stops at a service center for the LifeSafer devices in in Holbrook, N.Y., so his test results can be downloaded into a database, which is accessible via the Web. This lets his probation officer keep track of his process. LifeSafer's interlock device monitors several criteria including the number of blood-alcohol tests administered during the month and how often the user passes, fails or ignores the tests. Seiber has never failed a test since his device was installed, he says.

Although the interlock doesn't keep track of a driver's mileage, the service manager or technician records this information at the monthly check-in. The information can help catch drivers who cheat by driving the car of a friend or relative, Warner said.

Since a single test failure can mean a parole or probation violation, every 60 days the devices are calibrated to make sure they are working properly, Warner said.

The program is important because most first offenders drive while intoxicated up to 600 times before they are caught, Richardson said. "By the time you get to a third offender, this person is driving intoxicated all the time," he says. Millie Webb, of Franklin, Tenn., the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, says the interlock system can be effective. "We think that the ignition interlock is a valuable tool when it is used with repeat offenders," she said. "There have been studies that show it is an effective deterrent." Although the interlock device can be useful, there are one or two problems for the end users, aside from embarrassment. For example, if a user's car needs service, it can be difficult for a mechanic to work on the car. Since the interlock can't be turned off or differentiate between users, every time a car is started, a test is required. This means that to start the car the mechanic has to blow into the device. If the mechanic had a beer with lunch, the device will record a violation or warning.

Warner says he advises his clients to take their cars to mechanics who are also on the interlock program. "We have a group of guys that are also on the program that we can send people to," he said. "You know that these people can be trusted to work on the car."

In the end, officials and interlock makers say, the systems help people change their behavior. "You've got people getting it between the eyes six times a day for 12 months," Richardson said. "They are getting into the car, having to pick up the device and blow into it. Eventually, it makes you accountable for your own behavior."

c.2000 N.Y. Times News Service

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