A bill intended to crack down on drunk drivers by lowering the maximum blood alcohol content allowed was signed into law by President Bill Clinton Monday afternoon.
The new law requires states to lower their maximum BAC level for drivers to 0.08 percent by the year 2004. States that do not comply with the law will lose a portion of their federal highway funds.
Currently, drivers in Georgia who are 21 or older must have a BAC less than 0.10 percent, although officers may make DUI arrests for drivers with a 0.08 percent level.
'The merits of (this law) are on our side and there's a big financial incentive as well,' said Raymond White, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Atlanta. 'With all the congestion around Atlanta, that's a very significant amount of money to lose.'
MADD will begin lobbying Georgia's lawmakers beginning in January, when the new session opens, to ensure legislators add the bill to Georgia's books.
Withholding federal highway funds encourages states to adopt federal laws, said Walter Hellerstein, a law professor at the University.
'If a state doesn't want highway money, then they can let drunk people drive all over the road,' Hellerstein said. 'The 55 mph speed limit came about in the same way.'
The Clinton administration attributed 15,786 deaths to drunk drivers in 1999. With the passage of the new law, it estimates 500 lives will be saved in the next year.
In 1999, University police issued 109 DUIs, but that number doesn't tell the whole story, said University Police Chief Chuck Horton.
'Most college students are underage,' Horton said. 'We don't expect to see much difference because most people we stop are either well over 0.10 percent or they are underage.'
In Georgia, those drivers younger than 21 must have a BAC less than 0.02 percent when driving a vehicle.
'That's one beer,' Horton said. 'Two beers are too many.'
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a 170-pound man could consume four drinks in one hour on an empty stomach and still be under the new 0.08 percent limit. A 137-pound female could consume three drinks in an hour before reaching 0.08 percent.
These statistics are estimates based on the average male and female. The body's ability to process alcohol varies from person to person.
'I think a lot of students are going to be riding taxis home,' said Nancy Zechella, executive director of Safe Campuses Now.
White said the new law could have a unique effect on the University community.
'Because of the high per capita of binge drinking at the University of Georgia, this law could have an even greater impact,' he said. 'A lot of lives could be saved.'