5 - Supportive Strategies

This section describes the activities and strategies used by advocates of .08 per se in the six states that were studied, as reported to project staff.


In all six states that were studied, coalitions were organized so that members could join efforts and work together to obtain passage of .08 per se. In some states, the coalition had a definite leader and a clear plan of action. In other states, the coalition was no more than a loose association of organizations that supported the measure. In both cases, however, coalitions were necessary to demonstrate to legislators that .08 per se was an initiative backed by a wide variety of groups, representing both public and private interests in the state. Many groups that were not really active in the legislative struggle nevertheless submitted their names as supporters of the effort to lower the illegal limit to .08 BAC. A typical coalition consisted of:

Though in all cases it was one of the most active members, MADD was not always the coalition's leader. In several states, the governor's office for highway safety acted as the strategy coordinator. 

Advance Preparation

Legislative sessions in many states can be quite short. The number of days that the legislature can meet during regular session is limited by statute in all but 11 of the 50 states. Most legislative sessions vary in length from 30 to 120 days. Seven legislatures in the nation meet bi-annually. As an example, the Texas Legislature meets for only 140 days every other year. In this short period of time, thousands of bills are introduced; only a fraction of these bills are seriously considered, and the number of bills actually passed is even fewer. During the 1999 Texas legislative session, 5,766 bills were filed, but only 1,621 were passed.

Based on the above, individuals involved in the state legislative process report that a bill must move along relatively quickly, if there is any chance for it to become law by the end of the session. In states where .08 per se was passed, coalition members believed that by preparing extensively before the first meeting of the legislature, they were ready to "hit the ground running" once the legislators arrived in the capital. In states with short legislative sessions, coalition members reported that, if they were to wait until the beginning of the session to get organized, in all likelihood it would already be too late to have the bill placed high enough on the legislators' agenda to be considered during that session. 

In preparation for the legislative session, coalition members reported that they recruited supporters, and kept the topic of impaired driving on the forefront. Grassroots activists said they encouraged voters to write or call their representatives at their local district offices to express their support for tougher DWI legislation, including .08 per se. Local governments were asked for their support. Local victims of DWI crashes who could potentially serve as witnesses at committee hearings were identified. Executive leaders in favor of the measure held press conferences on the issue, often in the aftermath of a tragic death caused by an incident of drunk driving. One supportive committee chairperson managed to hold hearings on the subject before the legislative session began, in anticipation of the debate that would take place in the state Senate that year. 

Also in preparation for the legislative session, advocates began to anticipate the arguments that the opposition would present, and devised strategies for dealing with those arguments well in advance. For example, in one state, meetings were held prior to the legislative session to address communities' concerns regarding the costs of implementing .08 per se. If the legislation had been considered in past years, strategies were also formulated to rebut the opposing arguments that had been successful in previous legislative sessions. 

Media Involvement

Coalition members met with reporters and other representatives from the news media to seek their support. In one of the states, a part-time consultant was hired to coordinate relationships with the media. As a result of these efforts, many local newspapers featured editorials in support of the .08 per se legislation. Even when readership was limited, the editorials were significant because they would often mention the local representative by name and exhort him or her to support the bill. 

In several states, it was reported to project staff that the media were instrumental in giving a high profile to tragic DWI deaths to continue to elicit strong emotional responses from the public long after the incident had occurred. In particular, deaths of young children as a result of an alcohol-related crash were often seen by advocates as catalysts for an upsurge in public outrage and a demand for laws that would prevent such a tragedy from repeating itself. The .08 movement gained momentum from these events due to ongoing media coverage and investigative reporting. Victims of drunk drivers were also featured making emotional pleas to lawmakers and the public to support stronger legislation that would prevent more DWI-related tragedies. 

In some states, legislators and executive leaders held press conferences to discuss the issue of impaired driving and propose .08 per se as part of the solution. One legislator treated the impaired driving issue as a campaign, complete with slogans, to generate as much publicity as possible not only in newspapers but also through television and radio talk shows. 

Coverage of the Legislature

Advocates aggressively lobbied the members of the committee where the .08 BAC bill was to be considered. And, while they tried to reach every senator and representative in the state legislature, members of the coalition were often selective in terms of who should be the focus of their lobbying efforts. Some legislators were clear in their support of .08 per se from the very beginning; likewise, a handful of them were vehemently opposed to the legislation from the start. Giving secondary importance to these two groups, lobbying efforts were aimed instead at the larger number of legislators who were undecided, uncertain, or "on the fence." In particular, some advocates emphasized that they aggressively lobbied first-time legislators who arrived in the capitol without a pre-determined stance on many of the issues. These rookie legislators had more open schedules than their more senior counterparts to meet with .08 supporters. In addition, novice legislators were often eager to identify an issue or two that they could rally behind early on in their political careers. 

Having identified a sub-group of legislators to focus on, coalition members then adopted a two-tiered strategy: senators and representatives were not only lobbied while in session at the state capitol, but they were also approached by individuals and groups in their local districts. The advocates' logic was simple: legislators are concerned with re-election and accountability to their constituents. Therefore, they were more likely to take a personal interest in a particular issue if there were specific demands from their own constituents. Local authorities in cities and towns in the targeted districts were contacted. In many cases, this resulted in a municipal proclamation supporting .08 per se. MADD and other grassroots organizations worked together to identify local victims of alcohol-related crashes and exhorted them to write to their legislators, and if possible to visit them at their district offices. Local newspapers in the target districts were also lobbied, often resulting in an editorial discussing the .08 issue and encouraging the local legislator to vote in favor of the measure. As discussed above, much of this lobbying effort actually took place before the legislature convened, but it was thought that if the legislator was properly "swamped" with requests from his or her constituents, the impaired driving issue would be fresh in the legislator's mind at the beginning of the session. 

"Political Cover" for Legislators

Supporters pointed out that even when legislators were not fully convinced as to the effectiveness of .08 BAC laws, the vocal support of local government authorities, the local media, and district residents might be enough to provide the legislator with a sufficient degree of "political cover." By aiming to provide legislators with such political cover, coalition members were sometimes able to win votes in their favor. Legislators needed assurances that in the future they would be able to justify their votes through a relatively simple and straightforward answer, such as "my constituents (including the local government authorities and the local media) demanded it." Even if the legislator was uncertain as to effectiveness of .08 BAC laws, he or she could explain that personal convictions were set aside to make way for the demands of the constituency. 

Educate Legislators

In Illinois, advocates believed that one of their most effective strategies was the "drunk driving test" organized by the Illinois State Police. The State Police invited legislators to find out for themselves how their driving performance would be affected at .08. Participants were evaluated on a driving course before consuming any alcohol. Then, alcoholic beverages were provided, together with some food. Once they reached BAC levels of .04 -.05, participants were again taken out to the closed driving course and their driving skills were evaluated. Finally, those who chose to continue with the test were dosed until they reached BAC levels approaching .07 - .08, and their driving skills were once again evaluated. 

The results of this exercise were better than expected. At least two state legislators, some of their family members, as well other volunteers from the community, submitted themselves to the test and discovered that at .08, and even at lower BAC levels, their coordination was affected, and they would knock down multiple cones along the driving course. Some participants refused to get behind the wheel at .04 BAC because they already felt that they would not be able to perform safely. Several days after the exercise, the participating legislators disseminated a letter to their counterparts in the Illinois General Assembly, describing how they had experienced first-hand the impairment of driving a vehicle at .08 BAC, and exhorting legislators in both chambers to endorse the measure. 

This exercise was recommended by many as a strategy to persuade legislators in other states to endorse .08 per se. However, project staff are aware that attempts to organize similar activities in other states have been unsuccessful, and may even backfire. In some states, legislators have simply refused to submit themselves to this type of test. 

A different approach was used in Texas. When training troopers to operate breath testing devices, the state's Department of Public Safety (DPS) conducts alcohol dosing of police officers so that troopers can observe and experience for themselves the effects of alcohol at different BAC levels. In the House of Representatives, the legislation's sponsor distributed a flyer containing actual measurements from DPS, indicating the sex and weight of police officers who submitted themselves to the test, the amount of alcohol they consumed in a 45-minute period, and the troopers' BAC readings one hour after they began drinking. The idea was for the representatives to find an individual who matched their gender and approximate weight, and then look at the number of liquor shots the officer needed to reach .08 BAC. It was reported that, in almost all cases, legislators were surprised at how much alcohol was in fact needed to reach .08 BAC. 

Advocates believed these activities were helpful because many legislators did not have a clear idea of how much alcohol they would have to consume in order to reach an .08 BAC level. Charts and estimates provided by NHTSA and other agencies were somewhat helpful, but actual measurements were reported to be even better tools than the hypothetical estimates used in the charts. 

Separate Legislation under Separate Sponsors

With the exception of one state, the .08 legislation piece was typically a separate, stand-alone bill. It was not bundled together with other anti-DWI proposals. By submitting separate bills, advocates ensured that if one of the proposed measures failed, they would not all fail (as in omnibus legislation), though they could still be described as a "package of bills" which would strengthen each measure if all passed. Also, through the use of multiple sponsors, the publicity would provide opportunities for many legislators to look good in their districts and might help those up for re-election. In all six states studied, the measure enjoyed bi-partisan support, and by including sponsors from both major political parties and from both legislative chambers, the opposition found it difficult to enlist allies along political lines. 

Public Opinion Polls

In two of the states used as sites for this study, public opinion polls were conducted demonstrating that a majority of the state's voters supported .08 BAC as the illegal limit. Both polls were conducted with assistance and partial funding from insurance companies and other organizations. It should be mentioned that the polls sought to obtain the public's stance on a variety of issues, not only .08 per se. It is also interesting to point out that, in both cases, they were polls of registered state voters, and they were conducted during an election year. The results were of particular interest to candidates for public office, as they provide some indication as to what issues are of greatest concern to state voters. 

Breakdown of the Opposition

Groups opposed to .08 per se were varied. They included restaurant owners, beer and wine wholesalers, defense attorneys, retail stores, and others. In at least one state, this diversity proved to be a weakness. By appealing to specific interests not shared with other opposing groups, the .08 movement was able to disintegrate the united stance that opponents of the measure had presented in previous years. 

In one state, the Restaurant Association decided not to actively fight .08 per se, even though they were de facto opposed to the measure. This was as a gesture of good will toward the newly-elected administration that was actively promoting a .08 BAC law. The Restaurant Association decided that in the long run it was in their best interest to promote a positive working relationship with state government officials, rather than antagonizing the new administration from the start. 

For their part, brick-and-mortar alcohol wholesalers and retailers were beginning to see their businesses threatened by on-line Internet resellers. Some legislators suggested that beer and wine retailers were willing to negotiate and accept passage of .08 per se, in return for certain favorable state trade regulations that would protect them from Internet start-up companies. 

Once the active, vocal opposition of the hospitality industry and the local alcohol industry disappeared, the remaining adversary in the .08 per se debate was the American Beverage Institute. Advocates noted that legislators found it easier to vilify the ABI once it was left standing alone, since the ABI is not a state organization, and cannot claim to directly represent local business and constituent interests.