2 - Objectives and Methodology


With federal programs to encourage the adoption of lower BAC limits, as of May 2001 twenty-five states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, had established .08 BAC as the illegal limit. Repeated efforts in many other states to pass .08 legislation have been unsuccessful.

Rather than provide incentives to states that enact .08 per se laws, Congress has now decided to withhold federal highway funds from states that do not pass .08 per se laws by 2004. Consequently, it is expected that over the course of the next four years, legislators in more states will introduce bills to lower the illegal BAC limit in their states.15

The general objective for this project was to study the legislative and political processes of six states that either: (a) recently lowered their illegal per se laws from .10 to .08; or (b) attempted unsuccessfully to enact .08 per se legislation in recent sessions.

The specific objectives of this study were to:

Site Selection

The states used for this study consisted of the following: Texas, Washington, Illinois, and Virginia (states that have passed .08 per se), as well as Maryland and Minnesota (states that, as of the time of this study, had been attempting to pass this legislation for several years.16)

The most important criterion for site selection was recent consideration of the legislation. States where .08 legislation was recently introduced would logically yield the most information. States that passed .08 laws in more recent years would most likely have current lists of contacts which would allow project staff to locate more individuals who were involved in the process, as well as written materials such as reports, analyses and handouts. In addition, contacts' recall was expected to be more accurate if the legislative session was relatively recent.

Aside from recent consideration of the legislation, site selection took into account the intensity of the .08 debate in each state. Certain states where .08 per se passed in recent years were not selected because the legislation was achieved without much debate in the legislature; these states might therefore not yield as much information about obstacles and supporting strategies as other states where the debate was much more complex. Feedback was obtained from NHTSA, MADD and Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety, as to which states would present the most interesting case studies.

Data Collection Methods

In-depth discussions were conducted with a wide range of individuals involved in the political and legislative process in each state. For each of the states, project staff spoke with legislators both for and against .08 per se, as well as lobbyists and representatives from special interest groups on both sides of the issue. State-level agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, the State Police, and the state's Department of Transportation were also consulted. In addition, project staff approached representatives from national organizations such as MADD, the Century Council, and the American Beverage Institute (ABI). Although these organizations are national in scope, they generally offer assistance and advice to local chapters at the state level, and therefore, they often play a significant role in the state legislative process.

Many contacts spoke with project staff on the condition that project staff would assure confidentiality; accordingly, we have avoided the use of our contacts' names throughout this report.

In addition to our conversations with pertinent individuals, project staff also assembled copies of available materials concerning the .08 per se debate, including but not limited to:

Discussion Topic Guide

A topic guide was developed so that similar types of information would be gathered for each jurisdiction, with the understanding that participants were asked different questions depending upon their specific roles and perspectives. No one individual was asked every question, and even when project staff sought the same types of information from two contacts, the wording of the questions and the order in which the questions were posed was different in each case.

  1. It should be noted that the present study was conducted prior to the passage of the Department of Transportation's 2001 Appropriations Bill in October 2000.
  2. During the 2001 Legislative Session, the Maryland General Assembly enacted a .08 per se law, scheduled to become effective on September 30, 2001.