State Senate passes bill to lower blood-alcohol limit
HARRISBURG — A week before a federal deadline, the state Senate passed a bill to lower Pennsylvania’s legal blood-alcohol limit for motorists after a conference committee worked out differences with Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives.
The bill was approved 47-1 without debate. It now goes to the House, which had previously passed a similar bill that ran into opposition in the Senate over the severity of punishments for certain offenders, among other things.
In addition to lowering the blood-alcohol limit from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent, the bill is a broad revision to the state’s 20-year-old drunken-driving law.
It toughens penalties for drivers with especially high blood-alcohol levels and ensures that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has authority to install an ignition interlock device in the car of a repeat offender for one year whether ordered by a judge or not.
“By going to 0.08, people will be more cautious before getting behind the wheel,” said Sen. Charles Dent, R-Lehigh. “We believe behaviors will change in the community.”
Without a 0.08 blood-alcohol limit in force by Oct. 1, the state faces losing up to $11 million in federal transportation dollars, or 2 percent of certain highway construction funds. The federal government also requires states to include an ignition interlock provision in the legislation, which has been part of Pennsylvania law for two years.
The bill sets up different sets of punishments for different blood-alcohol levels — 0.08 to 0.099, 0.10 to 0.159, and 0.16 and up. The punishments become more severe with each offense.
“Having worked on the task force that developed this legislation, I am very pleased that the conference committee endorsed the tiered approach to DUI legislation developed by the State House,” said Rep. Mike Turzai, R-McCandless. “I’m glad the Senate adopted the conference report this afternoon. It will be good to get back here on Monday so the House can also approve the report.”
The bill also contains provisions to help offenders who lose their license to be able to drive sooner, but only for purposes involving their job. For instance, first-time offenders who register a blood alcohol level of 0.10 or more lose their regular license for a year, but have an opportunity to get an occupational license after a 60-day suspension. First-time offenders with a blood-alcohol level beneath 0.10 do not face losing their license.
Pennsylvania is one of the last states to process this legislation. So far, 44 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have adopted the lower blood-alcohol limit, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.