- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Those opposed to allowing Washington to dictate policies better left to state and local authorities inevitably have to answer the equivalent of the question, "So, have you stopped beating your wife yet?" For example, to those objecting to a federal ukase that defines what constitutes legal intoxication, the demagogic sucker punch will be: "Why are you defending drunk drivers?"

One need not side with drunk drivers to worry that for some years now, there has been a concerted effort to muscle every state in the union into accepting as the threshold for being legally intoxicated the blood alcohol (BAC) level of 0.08 and of being "under the influence" at 0.06 BAC. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and several key lawmakers (including, strangely enough, conservative Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia) have been agitating on behalf of the change.

Recently, the Senate passed the FY2001 transportation appropriations bill, which contained a rider requiring states to enact a 0.08 BAC law; similar legislation is pending in the House, with a vote imminent. The measure is likely to pass.

States that refuse to comply, or that enact differing standards, would risk losing their share of federal highway money, a club that has been used in the past to force obeisance to such noxious federal rigmarole as the 55-mph "national maximum speed limit."

MADD National President Millie I. Webb asks: "Who will set the drunk driving policy in this country: elected officials relying on input from traffic safety and public health experts or the alcohol industry that is clearly more interested in selling their product than protecting our families."

This slanderous and manipulative broadside is an amazing thing to behold. She imputes to distillers and restaurateurs murderous motives that they actually support drunk driving when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. There is a sea of difference between selling a legal product and advocating or encouraging its irresponsible use. What evidence does she have to support her slander? None other than a policy disagreement over the wisdom of national BAC standards.

And "elected officials"? In the mind of Millie Webb, that term is synonymous with Washington bureaucrats not local lawmakers.

As Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation pointed out recently, "If there is merit to the position of those who advocate changing the blood alcohol level, then they should be able to persuade states to adopt that position. There is no need for the heavy hand of the federal government to trample on states' rights. States don't like drunk driving, but some think tougher enforcement and other approaches will have a greater impact on reducing the problem."

Mr. Weyrich is exactly right both as to the idea that the lowered BAC thresholds should be able to stand on their merits, without federal bullying, and that the matter ought to be decided by state and local lawmakers not Washington know-it-alls.

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