Proposal to lower drunk driving limit could jam up Hawaii’s court system

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It’s a proposal sure to generate an opinion.

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that states lower the blood alcohol level for drunk driving.

Attorney Victor Bakke is in Honolulu courtrooms every day. He knows how choked the system is trying to deal with drunk drivers.

“There is about 7,000 to 8,000 arrests a year, which will only increase if you lower the level of intoxication. And that’s the problem. You’re going to bring in a whole bunch of first-time offenders with a low level of intoxication. They’re not the dangerous ones,” Bakke said.

Anyone arrested is guaranteed a speedy trial within six months of the arrest.

“So you have about 40 percent of the cases being dismissed on speedy trial violations,” Bakke said.

What would lowering the threshold mean?

For a 180 pound man, four drinks would put him at the drunk driving level. Adjust the limit to 0.05 and it would take just three drinks.

For a woman who weighs 130 pounds, approximately three drinks would keep her under the influence. At 0.05, she could only drink two alcoholic beverages.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says it appreciates the recommendation of lowering the blood alcohol level, but reminds everyone not to drink and drive.

“Any kind of drunk driving is a bad idea. We have what we call our campaign to eliminate drunk driving,” MADD Hawaii Executive Director Abigail Nickell said.

MADD says it continues to work towards the elimination of all drunk driving with all the help it can get.

“Continuing the research and development of technologies, which would prevent a drunk driver from even starting a car,” Nickell said.

According to Bakke, an already jammed system will be overwhelmed with more cases on the way if the threshold is lowered.

“It’s not where the focuses of the resources should be. It’s going to inject a whole new realm of cases between 0.05 and 0.08 that really don’t need to be there,” Bakke said. “They’re going to get put into the same system, clog it up. And that means the guy with two or three DUI’s is not going to get to trial because the court has the trials for the 0.05’s.”

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