- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2005

In Washington, driving after a single glass of wine can land a person in jail to answer to driving under the influence. A little-known D.C. “zero-tolerance” law empowers police to arrest drivers and charge them with driving under the influence for blood-alcohol levels as low as .03 percent — about one drink of alcohol.

Debra Bolton learned this first-hand: A 45-year-old mother of two, she was arrested and charged with a DUI after a single glass of wine with dinner. She wasn’t driving erratically; she was pulled over for forgetting to put her headlights on. Asked to take a breathylizer, she blew a .03 — well below the nationally accepted .08 limit, but equal to the level specified in a 1998 “zero-tolerance” law. Mrs. Bolton spent the night in jail and subsequently fought DUI charges.

Though the District says it does not keep records on low-blood-alcohol arrests, it appears that hundreds of people are arrested here every year for levels of .03 or lower.

We’re all for tough drunk-driving laws that lower the number of alcohol-related crashes in the United States. Drunk driving killed a staggering 16,694 people last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drunk-driving checkpoints and stiff penalties for repeat offenders are among the tools at law enforcement’s disposal that can save lives. But overly restrictive laws can destroy lives. They can end careers, ruin reputations and needlessly criminalize normal behavior. They divert law enforcement resources away from truly serious offenses.

Both Maryland and Virginia adhere to the nationally accepted presumption that a driver is not intoxicated with a blood-alcohol level below .08 percent. Neither state is lenient on drunk drivers. Both allow for something as reasonable and responsible as a glass of wine with dinner.

Washington is a city with a homicide every other day. It shouldn’t waste time hauling in hundreds of otherwise law-abiding citizens who happened to have a single drink with a meal. Given the D.C. government’s reputation for using fair means and foul to extract revenue from its citizens, this inevitably invites speculation that such zero-tolerance enforcement of drunk-driving laws has, like the spy cameras, little to do with citizen safety, and everything to do with squeezing taxpayers for a few dollars more.

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