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Most People Pan Idea of Lower Blood Alcohol Standard

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There has been talk this week of lowering the blood alcohol threshold for drunken driving from .08 to .05.

The National Transportation Safety Board wants all 50 states to make the change. It insists a tougher standard would reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes.

Wednesday’s beautiful weather prompted plenty of people to dine outdoors along Wisconsin Avenue. John Effenheim was one of the few I met, who supports the idea of lowering the blood alcohol level.

“I suppose it’s a good thing. It would make the streets safer,” Effenheim says.

A few tables away, Danny Fochesato told me he thinks the tougher standard would be too strict.

“I think it’s ridiculous. It’s too low. I think you should be able to have a spirit once in a while and still be able to drive,” Fochesato says.

Fochesato says he doesn’t want to be pulled over, or perhaps arrested for having a glass of wine with dinner. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke agrees a .05 standard would target social drinkers.

“One drink would be enough to put most average sized women at .05 and two drinks for an average size man. That’s not the problem here as we see it,” Clarke says.

Clarke says the drivers his deputies pull over, are usually way over the limit. For the past few years, his office has been conducting sweeps of the freeways on select weekends to nab intoxicated drivers.

“The average prohibitive alcohol content of the people we arrest here in Milwaukee County is .15, nearly twice the legal limit for driving. If we had a number of stops that resulted in somebody testing .05, .06 or .07 I’d say well maybe we need to do some research on that but that’s not what we’re finding,” Clarke says.

The sheriff says, in addition, putting more people through the criminal justice system would cost the state too much money. State Rep. Evan Goyke agrees. He used to be a public defender in Milwaukee County.

“I think the cost that would be associated with changing Wisconsin law from .08 to .05 would be astronomical. We don’t have the fiscal estimate but I think it would scare the party in power, the Republican Party away from that measure immediately,” Goyke says.

Goyke does not foresee the idea gaining traction in the Legislature, even though lawmakers continue to push for tougher drunken driving laws. Most target repeat offenders.

Goyke says, if someone could show him that a .05 standard would lead to a dramatic reduction in drunken driving, then he would support the change. The organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving is remaining neutral on the issue.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.