Bill to reduce blood-alcohol threshold for drunken driving up for full vote on Senate floor

A measure to lower the state’s blood-alcohol threshold for drunken driving cleared its final Senate committee Thursday, setting the proposal up for a full vote on the Senate floor.

Senate Bill 754 would reduce the blood-alcohol content level for being arrested and charged with driving under the influence of an intoxicant from 0.08% to 0.05%. That translates to a decrease from 0.08 grams per 100 milliliters of blood to 0.05 grams of alcohol. For a breathalyzer test, it would be a reduction from 0.08 grams of alcohol to 0.05 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

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The Senate Committee on Judiciary took the measure up for public decision making Thursday, passing the measure without amendments 7-0. Sen. Laura Acasio (D-Hilo) voted “aye with reservations.” The bill next heads to the Senate floor for a vote; if passed, it crosses over to the House for consideration.

About a half-dozen agencies/groups and individuals submitted testimony in opposition of the measure. While more than 15 offered support for the bill’s passage.

Cindy Goldstein on behalf of the Hawaiian Craft Brewers Guild, offering input in opposition, said drivers with a 0.05 BAC are not significantly impaired, noting that the “proposed limits are set so low that even a conscientious person that does not over consume would now be over the legal limits set by this legislation, resulting in harsh consequences.” She added that most alcohol-related traffic deaths involve a driver a BAC of 0.15.

“Enforcing current laws and addressing excessive drinking is a more meaningful way to set policy. Lowering the long-standing legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) arrest level for drunk driving from 0.08 to 0.05 would punish Hawaii residents and visitors alike for consuming even a minimal amount alcohol, with a policy that is close to zero tolerance,” Goldstein wrote.

More than 15 agencies/groups and individuals submitted testimony in support of the proposal, including Hawaii Police Department Chief Paul Ferreira.

Ferreira said in recent years alcohol-impaired driving has been a factor in approximately 31% of all traffic fatalities and critical collisions in Hawaii County.

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“The reduction of blood and breath alcohol levels will help make our roads safer by identifying unsafe levels of intoxication, allowing for efficient enforcement and prevent driving while intoxicated. It is for these reasons, we urge this committee to approve this legislation,” he wrote.

If passed by the state Legislature and signed into law, the measure would take effect July 1.

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