Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/20/1996 01:15 PM TRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 24 - LOWER ALCOHOL LIMIT TO 0.08 FOR OMVI'S Number 2174 CHAIRMAN GARY DAVIS said the next item on the agenda was HB 24, an act relating to the offense of operating a motor vehicle, aircraft, or watercraft while intoxicated; relating to presumptions arising from the amount of alcohol in a person's breath or blood; and providing for an effective date. He said the committee would only hear testimony on this bill today due to a request from the sponsor, Representative Therriault. JOSHUA DONALDSON, Legislative Aide to Representative Therrriault, read from the sponsor statement, "HB 24 lowers the legal definition of intoxication for the crime of driving while intoxicated from .10 percent to .08 percent blood alcohol level. This initiative would make it illegal to operate a motor vehicle, aircraft, or watercraft with a blood alcohol level of greater than .08 percent. Several studies have demonstrated that measurable impairment to operate a motor vehicle begins in most drivers at or below .05 percent blood alcohol level, at that all drivers are impaired at a blood alcohol level of .08 percent. Number 2211 Similar legislation has been passed in several other states and is being considered by many others. A blood alcohol threshold of .08 percent already exists throughout Canada, as in all of Europe. With alcoholism and alcohol related fatalities already taking a tremendous toll in Alaska, a reduced threshold will not only increase the odds of obtaining convictions for drunk driving, but will also increase driving safety. A study by the state of California showed that traffic fatalities were reduced by 12 percent after the implementation of .08 DWI laws. Number 2234 In December of 1993, the Supreme Court ruled in Haynes versus the Department of Public Safety that due to the margin of error inherent to the Intoximeter 3000 of .01, the actual level at which an operator of a motor vehicle should be convicted of drunk driving is .11. This clearly suggests an even greater need for .08 percent legislation." Number 2253 CHAIRMAN GARY DAVIS asked if all the fiscal notes have been collected and asked specifically if there was a fiscal note from the Department of Corrections. Number 2264 MR. DONALDSON said a fiscal note has not been received from the Department of Corrections. He said the sponsor could request one. CHAIRMAN GARY DAVIS said perhaps the department did not see a need for one. Number 2279 JUANITA HENSLEY, Chief, Driver Services, Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Department of Public Safety (DPS), said that HB 24 is the type of legislation that the DPS has supported for a number of years. She said it is felt that anytime you can reduce the number of drunk driving fatalities and injury accidents it benefits the state from a societal standpoint as well as reducing associated costs. Number 2319 MS. HENSLEY referred to a packet titled, "Strategies for Dealing with Persistent Drinking Driver," which was a report done in February 1995, by the Transportation Research Board. She said it was an independent research report including various specialists and their recommendations. She said the .08 percent blood alcohol level is supported by the Alaska Peace Officers Association, Transportation Research Board, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, et cetera. Number 2362 REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS asked if she had any figures to show what percentage of car accidents involve people who are between .08 percent and .1 percent. Number 2373 MS. HENSLEY said she did not have those figures on hand, but would get them and make them available to him. She said there are Alaskan figures for all types of accidents that occur in the state. She said there is a data base, called the Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS), which has all the fatal accidents that occur in states throughout the nation. She said all the factors are measured and put into that data base. She said all accident reports are sent to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and are statistics that are kept through the Highway Analysis System (HAS) system. Number 2404 REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMS referred to a time when the state did "move it down once." He said if you watched the police reports, throughout the state, DWIs did not stop. He asked if DPS was thinking of increasing the fine. He said, currently, people are fined, they get out and the next weekend they are driving under the influence again. He said these people are not afraid of the laws. He suggested that the penalty be increased. Number 2458 MS. HENSLEY said that last year the legislature passed a felony drunk driving law which makes the third offense, within a five year period, a felony. TAPE 96-12, SIDE B Number 0000 MS. HENSLEY said, in 1983, the legal limit was set at .10 percent or greater. She said in 1983, the legislature proposed the Administrative License Revocation Act which has an inherent deterrent affect. She said in 1984 there was a total of, a little over, 7,700 arrest statewide whereas last year there was barely 5,000. She said these changes have made an impact. She said decreases have occurred in the size of the State Trooper force, but added that the municipality and cities have increased in their force in some areas, particularly in Juneau and Anchorage. She said driving under the influence is an issue that the state has tried to address. She said the DPS supports stronger measures to help the public. She said society, as a whole, must realize that alcohol and a car does not mix. Number 0060 MS. HENSLEY said in the United States, on an average, there is over 56,000 people killed per year in automobile accidents a majority of which are alcohol related. Number 0068 REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS said he agreed that alcohol and driving do not mix. He said he was not in the legislature when they voted for the .10 percent but he did vote for making the third conviction a felony. He said he would be glad to vote for stiffer penalties. He questioned the inconvenience to the overall public, who never has had a car accident and has two or three drinks falling between the .08 percent and .10 percent. He wondered if the inconvenience is offset by the savings the state will receive. He said the people who fall between .08 percent and .10 percent are the real problem. He said the problem is the people who fall between 1.7 percent and 2.4 percent. He said that problem should be addressed and the focus should be away from social drinkers. Number 0117 MS. HENSLEY said, as part of her work, she has had to deal with this issue for 16 years. She said, during that time, she has seen many of the same names coming across her desk. She said there are a lot of alcohol problems and many people lose their license as a result. She said some individuals have lost their license until the year 2060 because they continue to drive. She said the average blood alcohol in Alaska is .19, which is nearly twice the limit. Number 0157 MS. HENSLEY mentioned the Supreme Court case, Haynes versus the state of Alaska, which determined that the state must consider the margin of error of the Intoximeter instrument. She said that margin of error has been placed at .01 percent. If the state has an arrest that is a .10, the person is not considered intoxicated until that person is .11 percent. She said this issue must be addressed and asked that HB 24 be amended to allow the inherent margin of error to be taken into consideration. She said the test at the time should be valid, as long as the machine is calibrated according to the standard criteria set in the law. Number 0193 REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS clarified that the margin of error worked both ways. He then asked if someone with a blood alcohol level of .07 percent, with a reading of .08 percent, could be in as much trouble as someone with a blood alcohol level of 3.6 percent. Number 0215 CHAIRMAN GARY DAVIS said that would be true if the margin of error was .01 percent. He then asked how long the .10 percent has been in effect and how long the .04 percent for commercial drivers has been in effect. Number 0224 MS. HENSLEY said the effective date of the .10 percent in law was October 18, 1983 and the effect date of the .04 percent in law was April 1, 1992. Number 0261 LENNI GORSUH, Lobbyist, Miller Brewing Company, was next to testify. She said most of the concern, her company has, was expressed by Representatives Williams and Sanders. She said the company believes that most of the fatal crashes are most often caused by people well above .10 percent and that it is the problem drinkers which legislation must address, rather than the social drinkers. She referred to a chart which gives an indication of where the fatal crashes occur depending on the blood alcohol content. She said the figures listed on the chart would concur with the figures by Ms. Hensley. Number 0301 MS. GORSUH said her company thinks the most effective deterrent to drunk driving consists of stricter law enforcement, expanded consumer awareness and increased severity of the penalties levied for drunk driving. She said her company has supported this type of activity. She said people need to know that if they drive drunk, they will be caught, arrested and prosecuted.