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THE NATION

Louisiana Lowers Its Drunken-Driving Limit

September 30, 2003|From Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — The state where revelers get blitzed during Mardi Gras and daiquiris are dispensed at drive-through windows held out about as long as it could before lowering its drunken-driving threshold.

As of midnight Monday, the legal limit for a motorist's blood-alcohol content was lowered from 0.10% to 0.08% -- a change approved reluctantly by Louisiana lawmakers who did not want to lose about $6 million a year in federal highway construction money.

"I didn't like the fact the federal government mandated us to do it," said Republican state Rep. Daniel Martiny. "Ninety-nine percent of the people causing these accidents are not 0.08, but probably 0.20 or 0.30."

The deadline for states to make the change or risk losing 2% of their highway funds is Wednesday. The six states that have kept the 0.10 threshold -- New Jersey, Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- risk losing an additional 2% each year through 2006.

Louisiana has long been loath to restrict alcohol.

This last spring, the Legislature narrowly defeated an attempt to ban open containers of alcohol in cars. Though drivers are not allowed to drink, passengers are -- and can hold more than one drink at a time.

In New Iberia, a largely Cajun town about 50 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, drive-through daiquiri shop owner Shane Boutte said he had mixed feelings about the change. His brother was killed by a drunken driver in the mid-1980s, so he supports a crackdown, "but on the other hand, I've got to make money."

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