Mississippi adopts .08 blood alcohol level
By By Stephanie C. Denham / The Meridian Star
March 21, 2002
After 10 years of knocking on doors, talking to everyone and anyone who would listen and walking the halls of the state Capitol, Mississippi finally has a tougher law against drunk driving.
The state Legislature voted this year to charge people with driving under the influence of alcohol if they have a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent. Currently, the threshold is .10 percent.
The law, signed by the governor this week, takes effect July 1.
I personally began my journey into lobbying for DUI law changes on Palm Sunday, March 24, 1991. That was the day my 9-year-old daughter, Lorien Lea, was hit by a drunken driver.
She died on Good Friday, March 29, 1991.
I was shocked to find out that more than 24,000 people died nationally that year because of intoxicated drivers. It was extremely hard to accept and come to terms with the fact that my daughter was now a numbered statistic.
I still struggle with that fact 11 years later.
Deweese offers help
I remember one of the first people that I went to talk with about DUI laws was then-state Sen. Glen Deweese. He was so patient and kind to me and extremely helpful.
He basically taught me where to go, who I needed to talk with and what I needed to do. He introduced me to people and was one of the most influencing factors to me.
He made me feel what I was doing was important. And, more importantly, he made a nurse and mother of a victim feel like she could make a difference at changing DUI laws in Mississippi.
Even as the years passed by and lawmakers still failed to decrease the blood-alcohol level to .08, Deweese would call me to tell me to keep trying that one day it would pass.
He truly encouraged me.
I have literally had doors slammed in my face by lawmakers who didn't want to talk to me about changing the laws. I just knocked on those same doors the next year, and sometimes I would be pleasantly surprised to see that the face behind that door had changed.
MADD takes role
In 1994, many of the loopholes in the state DUI laws were closed. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was instrumental in those changes, but, again, lawmakers didn't reduce the blood-alcohol level.
Every year it was the same: The Senate would usually pass a bill reducing the blood-alcohol level, but the House wouldn't. Most of the time it didn't even get out of a House committee.
Every year when the state MADD organization would start in August working on its legislative agenda, it always included the proposal for a .08 blood-alcohol level. We would discuss whether we thought this should be listed first or try to get other things done and put the proposal down on the list.
It basically became a "wish list" thing we always put on our legislative agenda.
When MADD's national organization started talking about lobbying the federal government to pass the .08 proposal, I resisted it at first. I was a MADD national board member and felt then that the federal government already placed too many restrictions on states.
Congress passes mandate
But after long discussions with fellow national board members, I concluded this really was the only way that we in Mississippi were going to get this law passed. So off to Washington we went and knocked on doors there.
Then, on Tuesday, I received a phone call that Mississippi became the 31st state to adopt this law.
I had a sense of relief relief knowing that in Mississippi the law is estimated to save approximately 25 people and their families from knowing the emotions and grief of losing a loved one to a totally preventable crime.
MADD in Lauderdale County has been active for 11 years. The members of this small group have been tireless in the pursuit of making Lauderdale County a safer place.
They have educated many on the dangers of drinking and driving. This group has helped many victims of this crime by giving assistance whenever needed if nothing else, but to listen.
I want to thank the members of the Mississippi Legislature for finally adopting something that I have personally strived for passage for 10 years.
Stephanie C. Denham, a Meridian resident since 1989, is public policy liaison for the state board of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.