Vermont Mulls Lowered DUI Limit

March 31, 2008

The chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Vermont House says he’d like lawmakers to consider lowering the threshold at which a driver is drunk behind the wheel from a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent to a lowest-in-the-nation .05.

“We’ve already seen the legal limit change several times in our lifetime,” said Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg. “If we changed it to .05, it would send a very serious message that impaired driving is not tolerated on Vermont roads.”

Lippert’s comments came at the end of a legislative week that began Tuesday with throngs of Franklin County residents, upset by the death last fall of a teenager at the hands of a drunken driver, descending on the state house to call for tougher drunken driving laws.

Police say Shawn Burrit, 32, of Jericho, had consumed eight or nine beers and was driving the wrong way on Interstate 89 when he struck a car in which 18-year-old Nick Fournier was a passenger.

Lippert’s committee took extensive testimony during the week about various aspects of the drunken driving issue. He said he doubted legislation would pass this year with the session expected to end by mid-May, but he said he hoped lawmakers would resume examining the issue when they return in January.

On Friday, the Judiciary Committee heard from Corrections Commissioner Robert Hofmann, who cautioned that toughening the state’s drunken driving law could drive up prison costs. Hofmann said a mandatory six-month jail term for a third offense of driving under the influence would require 105 new prison beds at an annual cost of $2.2 million.

Lippert also suggested lawmakers might want to consider a law mandating that repeat drunken drivers have a device installed in their vehicles that tests their breath for alcohol before allowing them to start the ignition.

“This really might be something that could reduce the number of repeat offenders we see,” Lippert said.

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