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Tougher DWI Standard On The Way

Citing the case of a 9-year-old girl who was mowed down by a drinking driver while she waited for a school bus, President Clinton is adding his voice to a chorus urging states to get tougher with anyone who drinks and drives.

CBS Chief White House Correspondent Scott Pelley reported Monday that the president was throwing his support behind a proposal in Congress under which states would be asked to lower to .08 percent the blood-alcohol level at which a driver is declared legally drunk or risk losing certain federal highway funds.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., is the prime sponsor of the proposal, which would be attached as an amendment to a pending federal highway spending bill. The previous bill expired Sept. 30, and Congress approved a stopgap $5.5 billion measure to keep highway programs operating through May 1.

For his part, Clinton was issuing an executive order calling on Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater to conduct a study on enforcing the .08 limit on federal lands such as national parks, the officials said. Currently, 33 states define drunkenness as a blood-alcohol level of .10 percent.

To bolster his argument for tougher drunken driving standards, Clinton planned to tout the case of Ashley Frazier, 9, who was struck by a car and killed Dec. 22, 1995 while waiting for a school bus outside her home in Hempstead, Md. The driver had a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent, less than the legal limit in Maryland.

Ashley's mother, Brenda Frazier, was to join the president, along with highway safety advocates and representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving at a ceremony in the White House's East Room.

White House aides pointed to a recent MADD survey that showed nearly seven in 10 Americans favored a lower blood-alcohol limit. Researchers also said 53 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed said they considered drunk driving to be the nation's No. 1 highway safety problem.

Under the proposed change, a 170-pound man with an empty stomach would be able to drink, in one hour, four drinks. Before, he would have been able to imbibe five drinks in an hour. (A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine.) A 137-pound woman would reach 0.08 percent after three drinks in an hour, sponsors said of the amendment said.

In 1996, more than 17,100 people died in alcohol-related vehicle crashes nationwide, about 41 percent of all traffic deaths, officials estimate. Of the total deaths, about 9 percent, or more than 3,700, involved drivers with blood-alcohol levels below the legal 0.10 percent limit.

Supporters of the amendment said studies showed that up to 600 lives could be saved annually with a national 0.08 percent law.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report