CBSN

Not Even A Beer

Looking at the dark side of the holidays, President Clinton asked Congress Saturday to impose a lower and uniform blood-alcohol level for drunken driving across the nation.

And he said the Justice and Transportation departments will use the leverage of federal grants to persuade states to adopt low-tolerance standards on their own.

In his weekly radio address, the president pointed to new research showing that in 1996, more than 46 million Americans drank or took drugs within two hours of driving.

"The sight of a car weaving through traffic is an all-too-familiar and frightening one for many Americans," Clinton said. "Ask any parent, anyone who has lost a loved one to an alcohol-related crash one impaired driver is one too many."

Clinton asked Congress to enact legislation next year to make a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent the national legal standard for driving while drunk. That level currently is used by 16 states and the District of Columbia.

The Senate voted earlier this year to penalize states that did not adopt the .08 standard. But the House declined to go along, deleting the provision from the six-year highway spending bill Congress passed in May.

"Tragically, the special interests blocked this lifesaving measure," the president said.

Clinton said it is important to call attention to drunken driving during the Christmas holidays, when millions of Americans take to the road to visit families and friends and alcohol often flows freely.

Thirteen hundred people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in December 1997 even though such deaths overall were at an all-time low for that year, Clinton said.

He urged American drivers this year to "think before getting behind the wheel."

Clinton noted a new survey shows that in 1996, 28 percent of American drivers, or 46.5 million people, used drugs, alcohol or both within two hours of driving.

Most of those, or 30 million people, drank alcohol, according to the survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The study was based on interviews with 12,000 drivers and data from the 1996 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.

Clinton also announced that the Justice Department is making $25 million available to states to help block the sale and consumption of alcohol by young people aged 15 to 20. One-third of all crash fatalities in that age group are alcohol-related, he said.

He also announced a new rule by the Department of Transportation that strengthens state efforts to curb impaired driving.

The rule sets new criteria under which states can qualify for anti-DUI grants. They include issuing licenses to young drivers on a graduated basis, testing blood-alcohol levels in fatal car crashes and establishing programs to target driving and driving among people aged 21 to 34.

In 1995, wheClinton first called on states to pass "zero alcohol tolerance" rules for underage drinking and driving, only 24 states had such laws, Now all 50 do, the White House said.

"We put young people on notice: just one drink before driving -- one beer, one glass of wine, one shot -- and you can lose your license," the president said.

Written by Lawrence L. Knutson