THE PILOT EDITORIAL - Drunken driving, sobering stubbornness

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Statehouse insiders predict that the lowered threshold for drunken drivers may finally pass the legislature this year, after about a decade of pressure.

It's been more stubbornness than anything else that has prevented the state from joining the 30-or-so other states that have already adopted blood-alcohol limits of .08 percent.

Iowa's lawmakers have instead been busy during these years trying to find ways to increase speed limits.

Judge for yourself which action is likely to save a few lives, and which is likely to cost a few.

The real rub hasn't been the .08 alcohol level for a drunk driving arrest, it's been the fact that it wasn't Iowa's idea. For years, the feds have been pressuring the Iowa legislature to pass such a law, with the strongly implied threat that millions of dollars in federal road upgrade dollars could be withheld if the state doesn't comply.

Those kind of strong-arm tactics seldom work well on Iowans, and that has certainly been the case on this issue. The federal pressure has probably actually worked against groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, who have been lobbying the statehouse for this change - since 1989.

From a practical standpoint, Iowa stands to lose $47 million in road funds between 2004 and 2007 if the lower drunken-driving level is not in place by then, plus perhaps $2.4 million in incentive grants available for adopting the .08 level. Local costs may go up a bit, with the likelihood of more people spending a night in jail on mandatory OWI handling.

Forget about the money.

The issue has never been about the feds blackmail tactics.

It seems the legislature, at long last, is ready to debate this issue not on the basis of dollar signs, but because it stands to make our roads safer and save a few innocent lives each year.

Ask your local sheriff's deputies if they've seen people who don't quite register the current threshold of .10, but still appear impaired to operate a vehicle safely. We have.

Iowans may be stubborn, but they aren't blind. There is no reason not to pass this bill, this year.

It's about the lives, not the power or the money.