Drunk drivers in Idaho could soon face stiffer penalties for driving at less than twice the legal limit for intoxication.  Boise Democratic Sen. Les Bock is supporting a plan to lower the blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for an enhanced DUI from .20 to .15.  The current legal limit for a DUI is .08 BAC.

More than 20 states have enhanced DUI laws that come with higher penalties for driving with a higher BAC.  The elevated limit in other states varies from .15 to .20.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends a .15 BAC limit.

Bock said the enhanced DUI penalty should have been lowered when the standard DUI penalty dropped to .08 in 1997. “This looked to me like somebody just missed it when they were doing the statute,” Bock said. “Everyone I talked to said that.”  Before 1997, the standard DUI limit was .10 BAC, so the enhanced limit was twice the standard limit.  Lowering the intoxication level for an enhanced DUI to .15 could help Idaho keep almost $1 million in annual federal highway funding, according to the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD).   Idaho currently gets that road money, but ITD officials say lowering the BAC level could ensure that Idaho doesn’t lose the funding in the future.

The penalty for one enhanced DUI in Idaho is equal to the penalty for a second standard DUI, with penalties of up to a year in county jail, a $2,000 fine, and a suspended license for between 1-2 years.  Two enhanced DUIs within five years is a felony carrying up to 10 years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and a suspended license for up to five years.

According to a report by the city of Boise, a person with a .15 BAC should have reduced muscle control and stumble.  It takes 5-7 drinks within three hours to get a .15 BAC.  A person with a .20 BAC should be confused and have difficulty standing up.  It takes 8-12 drinks within four hours to get a .20 BAC.  Read Boise’s report here (pdf).

Bock’s bill is headed to a Senate panel for further discussion.

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