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Published: Tuesday, 7/1/2003

Drinking and driving gets even more risky


That last beer tonight might look invitingly cold; that margarita perfectly tangy.

But pause a second.

You're legally drunk quicker today than you were yesterday because of a change in Ohio law.

Today - just in time for the holiday weekend - a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent is legally too drunk to drive. Yesterday, it was 0.10 percent.

If you're caught behind the wheel with that one-drink-too-many, it could mean $5,000 in fines, license reinstatement fees, and other costs - not to mention jail time.

“I don't care if you've done everything right in your life,” said Toledo police Sgt. Paul Kerschbaum. “Even for a first time offender, we're talking five grand, minimum.”

Granted, the change is a tiny shift that might not change the habits of hard-core drinkers. They already routinely risk tickets, jail, fines - and fatal accidents - to imbibe.

But for most, the lower intoxication threshold “might mean that they don't take that other drink,” said Gwen Neundorfer, coordinator of the Lucas County Traffic Safety Council.

It's tough to say exactly how much is too much. Your tolerance for alcohol depends on your weight, your body's metabolism, and even how much you've just eaten, police and safety officials said.

For example, Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that a 170-pound man would become legally intoxicated under the new law if he had four of the same drinks within an hour's time from any of these options: a 12-ounce beer, five-ounce glasses of wine, one-ounce shot or a mixed drink with .54 ounces of alcohol within an hour. A 137-pound woman would reach the intoxication level after three drinks in an hour.

Additionally, you can face criminal charges if you blow less than the intoxication level on a Breathalyzer test, said Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Rick Fambro.

That's because someone who drinks less often can be driving impaired - swerving across lines, for example - long before their blood registers that limit. The limit simply makes prosecution easier, he said.

“Drunk is really a relative term,” Lieutenant Fambro said. “It's just that 0.08 is the presumptive level [for driving under the influence].”

In addition to the possible $1,000 fine and court costs, there's the three-day jail sentence that's required under the state law. In Toledo, there's a $70 fee to tow the vehicle and a storage fee of $9 a day. There's a $425 driver's license reinstatement fee that goes to the state, and thousands of dollars in high-risk insurance that you will now incur. The cost tops $5,000.

Like many other states, Ohio changed the law, in part, because the federal government has threatened to withhold millions of dollars in federal highway dollars from states that did not reduce their intoxication limit to 0.08 percent.

Indiana enacted the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol limit in 2001; Michigan and Pennsylvania remain at 0.10 percent, though bills have been introduced in both states to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit.

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