Bill targeting drunken driving heads to New Jersey governor

| 1/16/2004

A lower drunken-driving threshold is a pen stroke away from becoming law in New Jersey, and a bundle of federal highway dollars will likely follow.

The state Assembly voted in favor of legislation Jan. 12 that would reduce the state’s blood alcohol concentration limit for motorists and put the state one step closer to preserving $72 million in federal highway dollars. The measure, which passed the Senate earlier the same day, now heads to Gov. James McGreevey, who is expected to sign it.

A682 would lower the threshold from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent. It would also establish a sliding-scale penalty system tied to blood alcohol levels with fines up to $600 and license suspensions ranging from three months to a year.

A 2000 federal law required each state’s legislature to adopt the 0.08 limit by Oct. 1, 2003, or lose 2 percent of its highway money. New Jersey is one of only five states (Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota and West Virginia being the others) to defy the federal mandate.

The Garden State’s previous refusal to adhere to the standard cost the state more than $7 million in highway dollars when lawmakers ignored the Oct. 1 deadline, local media reported. This year, the loss would jump to $14 million, $21.5 million in 2005 and $28.7 million in 2006.

States that adopt the new limit by Oct. 1, 2006, can recover the withheld funds.