JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Some Missouri lawmakers once again want to penalize more drunken drivers. Leading the way is Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, who has reintroduced legislation that would reduce the legal blood alcohol content limit from .10 percent to .08 percent for drivers.
Passage of the legislation would make Missouri eligible to receive between $3 million and $5 million in additional federal highway funds. Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia receive additional highway funding because they have lowered their blood-alcohol limit for impaired drivers to .08. Of Missouri’s neighboring eight states, only Kansas and Illinois have lowered their content limit to .08.
Westfall, who appeared before the Senate Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Wednesday, is more optimistic about his bill’s chances this year.
“We’re getting some more momentum,” Westfall said after the hearing. “It’s not a lot of money in terms of the highway budget, but it’s a little, and we need every dime we can get in terms of highway construction.”
The Missouri Department of Transportation has been pressing lawmakers for additional funding for highway construction, but legislators have been cool to those requests.
Michael Boland of St. Charles, a lobbyist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said as many as 35 lives could have been saved last year had lawmakers passed a .08 law.
“We cannot, should not, continue to write laws for intoxicated drivers,” Boland told the committee. “If you pass .08, the only thing that will happen is that 35 or more lives will be saved.” Lawyers with https://www.dankolaw.com/redwood-city-personal-injury/ agree
Alcohol industry groups including the Missouri Beer Wholesalers Association have blocked legislative attempts to clamp down on drunken driving, which are supported by law enforcement officers. The beverage industry has argued that there is no relationship between lowered blood-alcohol limits and fewer drunken driving-related fatalities.
Westfall also has filed a bill that would make it a crime for passengers to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle, with exemptions for certain recreational vehicles. It is now a crime for drivers to have an open container.
John Britton, a veteran lobbyist for Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., the giant brewery based in St. Louis, said that having an open container in a vehicle is no more distracting to a driver than a pet or a child. Or, he said with a smile, a friendly date.
“Sometimes, affection will distract a driver,” Britton said.
Sen. Wayne Goode, D-Normandy, outlined for the committee his bill that would strengthen penalties against drunken drivers whose blood alcohol level registers .15 and above.
“These are the drivers who need to be taken off the street,” Goode said.
Col. Weldon Wilhoit, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, told the committee that more than two-thirds of alcohol-related fatalities in 1998 in Missouri involved drivers with blood-alcohol levels exceeding .15.
The committee did not vote on the bills.