Tougher drunken driving rules stall in Delaware

| 7/18/2003

A bill that would establish a tougher standard for drunken driving in Delaware has stalled in a Senate committee.

HB111 would lower the state’s legal blood alcohol content level from 0.10 to 0.08 percent. In addition, if a driver were over 0.16 percent, twice the legal limit under the bill, that driver would not be eligible for the state’s First Offender Program.

The bill passed the House 39-0 on April 17. In early May, it was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it has not moved out of the committee. The regular legislative session ended in June, and a special session held in July has also passed. A spokeswoman at the General Assembly said the Senate might have another special session in the fall, possibly September, when the bill could be considered.

Some legislators have said publicly they opposed the effort to lower the limit. Another bill to lower the limit was killed earlier in the session. HB37, sponsored by Rep. William A. Oberle, R-Beecher’s Lot, was withdrawn from consideration April 3.

However, according to The New Castle-Wilmington News-Journal, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner supports the concept of lowering the limit and listed it as a legislative priority for this year.

A 2000 federal law requires each state’s legislature to adopt the 0.08 limit by 2004 or lose 2 percent of its highway money. If the state doesn’t lower its limit to 0.08 by October, it stands to lose $1.6 million in federal highway funds, the Delaware State News reported recently. The penalty escalates in future years. States that adopt the new limit by 2007 can recover the withheld funds.