TESTIMONY
SENATOR FRANK LAUTENBERG
SAFETY IN ISTEA REAUTHORIZATION
MAY 7, 1997

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I appreciate this chance to join Senator DeWine and Congresswoman Lowey to testify behalf of our legislation to reduce fatalities and injuries due to drunk driving.

With the creation of the interstate highway system in the 195Os, the federal government assumed a major role in building and maintaining our highway infrastructure. We also have a responsibility to make sure that those roads and highways are as safe as possible.

When I introduced legislation almost 15 years ago to make 21 the national minimum drinking age, many people told me that it would never pass. But, President Reagan supported it, along with Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole, and now every state has a minimum drinking age of 21. This act did away with so-called Blood Borders between states and has saved over 10,000 lives since its enactment.

In this Congress, we have a real opportunity to further reduce fatalities from drunk driving. During ISTEA reauthorization, we should take the serious steps needed to make a difference.

Currently, 41% of all fatal crashes are alcohol-related. With Senator DeWine and Congresswoman Lowey, I have introduced S. 412 ,the "Safe and Sober Streets Act of 1997," to make .08 Blood Alcohol Content the national standard. If a state fails to pass this standard by Fiscal Year 2001, it would lose a portion of its highway funding.

The simple fact is, setting lower limits saves lives. But since so many states have been stuck in neutral on this issue, it is time for the federal government to take action. This legislation will get tough on states that fail to get tougher on drunk driving.

The question is NOT why should we drop the drunk driving standard to .08, but rather why was it ever set as high as .10? It is at .08 BAC that a person becomes significantly impaired and should no longer be driving.

A 170 pound man must drink four and a half drinks in one hour, on an empty stomach, in order to get to .08 BAC. At that point, that man has lost his basic driving skills, such as braking, steering, lane changing and judgment. challenge each of you to consume over four drinks in one hour on an empty stomach and then decide whether or not you could get behind the wheel and drive safely.

Most importantly, .08 BAC laws work. States which have adopted the .08 standard have seen a reduction in their alcohol-related traffic fatalities. A recent study by Ralph Hingson of Boston University demonstrated that if all states adopted the .08 standard, 500-600 lives would be saved each year.

France's BAC limit is .05, Canada and Great Britain's is .08. Thirteen states have .08 BAC laws -- including Virginia, California, Florida and New Hampshire, and legislation is pending in many more. But, the beverage industry, so powerful at the state level, strongly opposes such legislation. Sanctions on federal highway assistance can counterbalance local political pressures.

I have also introduced a bill to promote minimum standards for those repeatedly convicted of drinking and driving. This proposal would sanction highway funding if states do not revoke the licenses of convicted drunk drivers, with three time offenders losing their license permanently.

Matthew Hammell, after whom this bill is named, was a seventeen year old New Jerseyan killed by a driver whose New Jersey license was revoked for repeated drunk driving convictions, but who was able to get a license in North Carolina. Those who drink and drive need to know that wherever they are, the law will not permit repeated abuse.

Establishing a .08 BAC limit and license revocation for repeated abusers are two concrete ways to reduce fatalities and injuries associated with drunk driving.

I'd also like to comment briefly on another issue -- the issue of big trucks. was the author of the 1991 freeze on longer combination vehicles. About 5,000 people are killed and 20,000 people injured each year in big truck crashes. Big trucks also impose greater wear and tear on our transportation infrastructure.

We should maintain the LCV freeze in the next ISTEA bill and reject efforts to leave truck size and weight standards to the states. The Southern Governors' Association, some state trucking associations and the Owners-Operators and Independent Drivers Association support maintaining the LCV freeze and oppose the "states' option."