Officials discuss proposed DUI changes

PARKERSBURG – Local and state law enforcers and lawmakers are coming together to reduce the number of vehicle accidents caused by drunk and impaired drivers.

National lawmakers are recommending states lower the threshold of drunken driving in half from a 0.08 blood alcohol level to 0.05, matching a standard that has been adopted by more than 100 countries.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said it wasn’t their intention to prevent people from having a glass of wine with dinner, but they acknowledged under a threshold as low as 0.05 the safest thing for people who have only one or two drinks is not to drive.

Chief Law Enforcement Deputy Shawn Graham with the Wood County Sheriffs Department said anytime lawmakers want to make a positive impact on public safety deputies are on board.

“We support anything that makes it safer for the public,” Graham said. “They’re trying to drive home the message people shouldn’t be drinking and driving.”

Graham said studies have shown each time the limit is reduced fatalities directly related to driving under the influence decrease.

“The direction the federal government is going to impact drunk drivers is to tell them it’s less and less acceptable,” he added.

Having a drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer or 4 ounces of wine and NTSB members said alcohol concentration levels as low as 0.01 have been associated with impairment while driving. Levels as low as 0.05 have been associated with significantly increased risks of fatal vehicle accidents, the board said.

Reports have showed more than 300,000 people are killed each year on U.S. highways, a consistent number for the past decade or so, officials said.

West Virginia is leading the way by being one of only 19 states that require harsh drunk driving penalties which include the Ignition Interlock program required of all second-time offenders.

The West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program hosted an annual event bringing unique educational opportunities to those who apprehend drunk and drugged drivers. The program, geared towards bringing together state law enforcement officers, helps those officers focus on detecting and apprehending impaired drivers. The conference goal is also to celebrate outstanding achievements from a select group of officers all over the state on their awareness and achievements in DUI citations.

The program began on May 15 and continued through May 17 at The Resort at Glade Springs in Daniels.

Officer Chris Morehead with the Parkersburg Police Department was set to be honored during the event for his work enforcing DUIs locally.

Sgt. Greg Collins with the Parkersburg Police Department said lowering the blood alcohol level for drivers will not change the way officers enforce the law. He said the intention of officers is to remove impaired drivers from roads.

If the lower BAC is adopted, Collins said police would like to think people will decide to not drink at all if they plan on driving; as opposed to the more common practice of trying to drink in moderation thinking they can stay under the legal limit and drive.

“There won’t be much wiggle room if the new BAC level becomes law,” Collins said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see a zero tolerance DUI law one day, far down the road.”

Arrests for DUI have been increasing steadily over the last three years.

Parkersburg police officers have already arrested 94 people for driving under the influence this year, Collins said.

In 2012, city police made 196 DUI arrests while 114 were arrested in 2011 and 95 in 2010.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.