Published September 1, 2003 | September 2003 issue
Wisconsin added itself to a growing number of states that have reduced the legal blood-alcohol content level to .08, when the Legislature passed such a measure in July. With the new standard, the state government ensured receipt of $2.7 million in federal incentive payments. The legislation also prevented the state from losing a potential $154 million in federal highway construction funds by 2009, since it complies with a 2002 congressional law. Faced with a $3.2 billion state budget deficit, the Legislature had little choice. The law goes into effect Sept. 30.
While some politicians resented the federal "blackmail," others pointed to the necessity of legislation that could reduce alcohol-related traffic deaths. Studies have shown that states with a .08 standard witnessed 6 percent to 8 percent fewer alcohol-related driving fatalities. This could mean 24 lives saved annually in a state that saw drunken driving casualties increase by 19 percent from 1999 to 2001.