Less-Independence Day


Just in time for the Fouth of July comes a new, lower legal blood alcohol content for people driving in Ohio, the state that claims to be at "the Heart of It All." It sure is, if you're talking about repressive conformity and endless hikes in annoying taxes and services fees.

This Cincinnati Enquirer editorial also gets at much of what's wrong with the new legal limit for boozing while driving:

Today, thanks to a federal mandate, they have another DUI enforcement tool. Ohio's new 0.08 percent legal limit for blood-alcohol content is a two-hundredths of a percent reduction from the old 0.10 standard. Ohio joins 36 other states (including Kentucky and Indiana) at the more stringent level.

This is a good law, but its flaw is in the way it was carried out. The federal government threatened to hold $122 million in highway funding from Ohio over the next four years if state lawmakers didn't support the measure.

Numerous studies have indicated that a driver is impaired at levels lower than those commonly prosecuted. But the federal government, through its unfunded mandate to the states, is simplifying an issue that is frequently more complicated.

The blood-alcohol content readings are not as critical to a drunken driving arrest as many people think, said Lt. Rick Fambro of the Ohio Highway Patrol Columbus headquarters. An officer's subjective observation during a traffic stop is usually the deciding factor in charging a person with drunken driving, he said.

It's like that because "impairment" is a relative term. Unless drivers are extremely inebriated (and they're not, if they're affected by the new standards), charging them depends on a variety of factors evaluated by trained police officers. A federal demand to lower Ohio's limit takes that subjectivity out of the equation.

Ohio may have decided on its own to lower the legal limit for drunk driving. But it should have happened with the advice of police and local governments, not because of a multimillion-dollar threat from Washington.

Going back to the Reagan days, of course, the feds pulled a similar trick regarding drinking ages across the country, with the chief benefit being a few embarrassing moments for George W. Bush and his daughters gone wild.

I'd add only that, pace the Enquirer, it's far from clear that the lower BAC is a good law, for reasons sketched here and here.

NEXT: Booze: It Does a Body Good

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  1. toodles:
    when you are the victim of an officer’s quota you mind will change.

  2. The problem is “cop’s discretion” doesn’t always hold up well and costs money to the jurisdictions when it doesn’t. Since the whole BAC-makes-you-a-menace idea is a money-making scam in the first place, the compromise to the governmental bodies is a BAC level so low that more people fail it. The states become sticklers for enforcing to the letter of the law when the fines are huge and the budget is in the red. The BAC-level concept is no longer a means to make the roads safer, it is a profit center for the governments. In another ten years, it’ll be down to .06 across the board. The states don’t have to take the money, but when they see piles of cash, they will jump at it. It also helps support the “treatment” industry, usually operated by politically connected people who pay hefty license fees to stay in business, fees which are cherfully passed on to the customer, er “perpetrator”, I mean “victim”.

  3. I think Russ D hit the proverbial nail on head.

  4. nail on the head….there that sounds better

  5. Nick, you described Ohio as “the state that claims to be at ‘the Heart of It All.'”.

    We no longer claim this. Instead we call ourselves the “Birthplace of Aviation”.

    We do this to piss off the North Carolinians who have “First in Flight” on their license plates.

    They are actually “First in Airfields”. Though the “First in Windy Beaches Who Help Ohio Guys Get Off” would surly be a popular license plate.

  6. Darn, I meant “surely”. I am not a crackpot.

  7. Neb Okla:

    When did this change? The summer before last, I stopped at a rest stop on US23, and there was a sign that read “Ohio – The Heart of America” in about a dozen languages.

  8. I used to live in Texas before they passed an open container law. You could drive past and wave your pint of Wild Turkey at a cop, and he’d just wave back at you. I understand it’s still that way in Montana.

  9. while i don’t like the fact that the feds choose to act this way…

    money = power

    its really not a very new concept

  10. Nick, do you still live in Ohio, or have you left? I’ve lived here for 25 years, but the new taxes and the poor job market are encouraging me to move. Would anyone like to suggest a better state for a software engineer who likes free minds, free markets, and low taxes?

  11. The same law goes into effect in New York. Cheers, Nick.

  12. if the feds pay, why shouldn’t they get a say? the state of ohio doens’t have to take the money.

  13. Eric, might I suggest the Free State Project? I haven’t signed up (yet?) but it looks rather promising for someone looking to move to a more “libertarian-friendly” place. Or just move to New Hampshire.


  14. Some good ammo on this site:


  15. Ohio is infested with peculiarly submediocre politicians. My theory is this is because it’s nearly a one-party state. Thus the least attractive varieties of republicans: fundies and big government republicans, can run pretty much unchecked.

  16. I couldn’t agree less with that article. I personally think .08 is too low for the legal limit. However, I totally disagree that having police discretion be THE deciding factor in DUI arrests is a good thing. That’s a terrible thing. They ought to set a realistic legal limit. If you’re above it, you’re arrested; below it, you’re not.

  17. Sorry I disagree Sparky. I don’t want your drunk ass to kill me. If the officer decides that you shouldn’t be on the road, that is enough for me.

  18. It’s good they lowered it. At 0.1 you’re legally drunk. Your judgement sucks and so do your motor skills. I don’t want to be out driving and get hit by someone too drunk to see straight.

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