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Technology Transfer Series

Number 256 September 2001

A Legislative History Of .08 Per Se Laws

In October 2000, the President signed the Department of Transportation's Appropriations Act for FY2001, which included the landmark provision that states must enact .08 BAC per se laws by 2004 or begin losing federal highway construction funds.

Prior to the enactment of this bill, only nineteen states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had enacted .08 BAC (blood alcohol concentration) per se laws. As of May 2001, an additional six states had enacted .08 per se laws. Other states have attempted to pass .08 legislation but have been unsuccessful. With states now facing the potential loss of federal money, it is likely that many more states will consider enacting .08 laws in the coming years.

Mid-America Research Institute conducted a study for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to document the roles, strategies, and arguments used in four states (Washington, Illinois, Texas, and Virginia) that have passed .08 laws. The study also examined the obstacles that were faced in two states (Maryland and Minnesota) that were unsuccessful in their attempt to pass .08 legislation during the study period.

In each state, the researchers talked with both proponents and opponents of .08 laws, including state officials, traffic safety activists, attorneys, lobbyists, and representatives from the alcohol industry.

Common Elements

While each state's legislative process was unique, there were common elements in the preparation for the proposed legislation and in the arguments asserted for and against .08 per se in most states.

Preparing for Legislation

Proponents of .08 legislation reported that it was beneficial to:

There were similarities among the states in the arguments they reported were used both for and against .08 legislation. The report describes in more detail each of these issues and offers factual responses to the criticisms of .08.

Arguments Typically Used to Support .08 Per Se

Arguments Typically Used To Oppose .08 Per Se


A major obstacle states found when trying to pass .08 per se was the opposition of a powerful legislator. In many instances, advocates of .08 believed they had gained the backing of enough legislators to obtain passage of the bill. However, the influence of a key person in the legislature was sufficient to keep the bill from reaching the House or Senate floor for a general vote. To overcome this obstacle, some states had strong leadership by a person who was committed to the issue and who had the ability to build a strong coalition. Opponents of .08 were also successful in using a variety of legislative tactics. For example, the .08 bill would be given a low priority so that it was never brought up for a vote. Or an assessment of the financial impact of the legislation would be requested. This could defeat a measure if there was not enough time to obtain the needed information.

Finally, both advocates and opponents emphasized that each side should provide positive angles and avoid antagonizing the other side through the use of negative comments.


For a copy of Legislative History of .08 Per Se Laws (45 pages), write to the Office of Research and Traffic Records, NHTSA, NTS-31, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20590, fax (202) 366-7096, or download from Amy Berning was the contract manager.

U.S. Department
of Transportation
National Highway
Traffic Safety

400 Seventh Street, S.W. NTS-31
Washington, DC 20590

Traffic Tech is a publication to disseminate information about traffic safety programs, including evaluations, innovative programs, and new publications. Feel free to copy it as you wish.

If you would like to receive a copy contact:

Linda Cosgrove, Ph.D., Editor, Evaluation Staff
Traffic Safety Programs
(202) 366-2759, fax (202) 366-7096