Massachusetts bill targets drunken driving, highway dollars

| 4/1/2003

The Bay State risks losing $54 million in federal highway dollars over the next four years if it fails to toughen its drunken driving laws, according to local media.

Massachusetts is the only state in which drivers are not considered impaired if they register a blood alcohol level at or above the legal limit, the Daily News Tribune reported. Instead, prosecutors must prove drivers are under the influence.

Gov. Mitt Romney, who proposed the change in his fiscal 2004 budget plan, said changing the law could be a financial boon to cash-strapped state coffers.

Under current law, registering a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher on a breathalyzer test creates “a permissible inference” that a driver was drunk – that then requires the prosecutor to go one step further and prove the driver was impaired. The proposed change would remove that burden of proof from prosecutors.

The state has until October to change the law or lose 2 percent – $5.4 million – of its highway money in the fiscal year starting in July, the newspaper reported. The losses multiply over the next four years to a total of $54 million.

States that adopt the new limit by 2007 can recover the withheld funds.