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Fight Brewing Over Drunken-Driving Safety Proposal

But in other cases, the federal government has wielded a stick — the threat of cuts in highway aid — to push states to enact highway safety measures, such as the 21-year-old minimum drinking age and, more recently, the reduction in the blood-alcohol level that constitutes legal intoxication to 0.08 percent. Supporters plan to fight for language in the next surface transportation bill that would penalize states without ignition interlock requirements for first-time drunken-driving offenders.

Longwell said that would not only be damaging to restaurants and bars but would also be expensive. Offenders are responsible for the cost of installing the equipment and regular calibrations. Device-related costs alone run about $75 a month for users of one popular brand.

And the American Beverage Institute cites figures provided by the American Probation and Parole Association that estimated it would cost $432 million annually to enforce a nationwide interlock law for first-time offenders.

Longwell of the American Beverage Institute said an even bigger concern for her organization is that interlock devices will become standard equipment for all vehicles, not just those operated by convicted drunken drivers.

The surface transportation bill authorized another $24 million through fiscal 2014 to help fund research for the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program, which is developing seamless, built-in technology that could test driver sobriety before allowing the vehicle to start.

Longwell said that would make “responsible social drinking before driving a thing of the past.”

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