Fight to lower legal limit for drunk driving in Hawaii receives opposition

Advocates say it will help save lives.
Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 7:18 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2023 at 9:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A push to lower Hawaii’s blood alcohol content limit is moving forward at the legislature.

Advocates say it will help save lives.

“You never retire from certain crashes,” said retired Maui Police Traffic Commander William Hankins.

Wednesday marks one year since William Hankins retired from the Maui Police Department. But after more than 30 years of service, the former traffic commander says certain images and faces are engraved in his memory forever.

“Half of a family was totally wiped out from a DUI driver,” Hankins said.

Hankins is talking about Mildred Jouvenat and her 14-year-old son Jacob. Both were killed near the intersection of Piilani Highway and East Welakahao Road in Kihei when a suspected drunk driver plowed into their sedan in 2019.

Hankins, a retired lieutenant, is still fighting for justice.

Hankins, along with other supporters, believe lowering the legal limit for driving drunk in Hawaii from 0.08% to 0.05% is the first step.

“We’ve had to fight for so many things to make our roads safer, from windshields to seat belts to airbags. This is just the next step to make our roads safer,” said Hawaii Alcohol Policy Alliance Director Rick Collins.

Senate Bill 160 has support from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Hawaii Department of Transportation, local police departments, and prosecutor offices.

Opponents of the bill include the State of Hawaii Office of the Public Defender, and members of the alcohol industry.

Written testimony submitted by the Public Defender’s Office states, “A reduction of the alcohol impairment level to 0.05% BAC simply casts too wide a net and will result in criminalizing the behavior of normally responsible drinkers without having an impact on reducing alcohol-related fatalities.”

Justin Guerber, Head Brewer at Kauai Beer Company, writes, “research seems to indicate that a majority of drunk-driving related fatalities involve at least one driver with blood alcohol content of 0.15% or higher. Lowering the limit from 0.08% to 0.05% would not fix this problem.”

Utah is the only state to have a BAC limit of 0.05%.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says Utah’s fatal crash rate dropped by almost 20% the year after it was implemented.

“It is popular with Hawaii voters, it’s backed by strong research evidence and it’s actually endorsed by the world’s largest brewer Anheuser-Busch,” Collins said.

SB160 is scheduled for a second reading on Thursday.

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