Pawlenty signs historic legislation strengthening Minnesota’s drunk driving laws

Putting the capstone on legislation he authored as a member of the House of Representatives and supported as Governor, Tim Pawlenty today signed into law a bill that decreases the alcohol-concentration legal limit for drivers on Minnesota roads from 0.10 to 0.08, effective Aug. 1, 2005. Minnesota was one of two states remaining in the country that had not passed a 0.08 law.

“Lowering the legal alcohol limit in Minnesota is a change long overdue,” Governor Pawlenty said. “Drunk drivers are public enemy number one on our roads, and people who threaten our public safety by driving impaired will feel the impact of this law.”

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) estimates a 0.08 limit will save 70 lives and nearly $70 million in a five-year span. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cites that more than 20 percent of alcohol-related traffic deaths involve alcohol-concentration levels below 0.10.

The passage of this legislation prior to a federal deadline of Sept. 30, 2007, guarantees Minnesota will receive more than $100 million in federal highway construction funds. This money would have been withheld if the law was not passed.

In 2002, there were 239 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Minnesota. Each year, alcohol-related fatalities account for about 36 percent of all the state’s traffic deaths.

“This is landmark legislation,” said Kathy Swanson, director of OTS. “Impaired drivers have plagued Minnesota roads for too long. This law will make those drinking think twice before they get behind the wheel.”

Even though the law becomes effective on Aug. 1, 2005, Swanson says now is the time to begin the education process about the 0.08 limit. “Driving is a complex task. Motorists need to understand that alcohol impairs your judgment and reaction time. At 0.08, every driver’s ability is significantly impaired—so be aware of the potential dangers and make plans for a sober ride.”

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