Nevada's DUI law gets tougher Tuesday when the blood-alcohol level to be legally intoxicated drops from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent.
The law takes effect 1 minute after midnight. It was mandated by the federal government, which threatened to start taking highway fund money from states that refused to adopt the 0.08 percent standard before Sept. 30.
In Nevada, legislative fiscal analysts said that would add up to $2.8 million this fiscal year, but increase to $11.4 million a year by 2007.
Nevada Highway Patrol Col. David Hosmer said he believes the new level will help make the roads safer by making more people aware they can't drink as much without risking a DUI.
"But I don't expect to see a huge spike in arrests," he said.
Hosmer said his troopers don't stop that many drivers with 0.08 to 0.10 percent alcohol now. In fact, the average blood-alcohol level in DUI cases is about 0.15 -- nearly double the new standard.
Hosmer said, however, drinkers need to know NHP is constantly training its troopers to spot people before they are "totally zonked out."
He said the experienced DUI officers -- who typically spot impaired drivers at a lower intoxication level -- are helping improve the skills of fellow troopers.
"We're trying to stress that it doesn't do us any good to catch them after they crash," he said. "We've got to catch them before they crash."
Hosmer said there are still far too many DUI arrests in Nevada -- and far too many accidents in which one of the drivers was drunk.
"We made in July in excess of 330 DUI arrests, and 58 of those from accidents," Hosmer said. "Unfortunately, that's pretty normal for a month."
The Office of Traffic Safety said of the 381 highway deaths recorded in Nevada during 2002, 138 were alcohol related.
Hosmer said the law is important because it will help get the attention of some drivers and convince them to take a cab, or otherwise avoid driving after they've been drinking.
But he said state law has always allowed a trooper to charge someone with DUI even though they didn't have 0.10 percent blood alcohol. He said anywhere above .050 percent, the officer can charge DUI "if the officer can show impairment through a field sobriety test or bad driving."
He said the different now is that anything from 0.08 percent blood alcohol up is legally drunk, and the officer doesn't have to prove impairment to a judge.
Nevada lawmakers resisted the 0.08 standard for several sessions, agreeing with bar and restaurant operators, as one veteran lawmaker put it, the state was "trying to make criminals out of social drinkers." Opponents pointed to statements by law enforcement that those who drive badly enough to get stopped almost always test at well over 0.10 percent. Almost none are that level.
Restaurateurs and bar operators backed off when told the state would lose millions in badly needed highway funds unless it adopted 0.08.
However, the Legislature did include a provision that automatically raises the intoxication standard back to 0.10 percent if the federal government eliminates that mandate.