Although the current state standard for the legal concentration of alcohol allowed in a driver’s system is 0.08, it wasn’t alwasys that low. In fact, Minnesota was one of the last states to lower their standard to 0.08. Today, we take a look at the history of blood alcohol concentrations and drunk driving laws in Minnesota.
BAC and DUI History
As the automobile market took off in the early 1900’s, it became apparent to government officials in Minnesota that drivers shouldn’t get behind the wheel when intoxicated. Just three years after the first Model-T was produced, Minnesota outlawed drunken driving in 1911. A great start, but because BAC testing wasn’t yet well understood, there was no standard level of impairment that classified a driver as drunk. It was simply up to the arresting officer to determine if the driver was intoxicated.
Things got a little clearer a few decades down the road. The American Medical Association published a piece saying that a person was impaired by alcohol if they had a BAC of 0.15, but they also noted that presumption could be rebutted with “contrary evidence.” In other words, 0.15 percent is a great level of indication, but if you can prove you still have controls of all the necessary bodily functions at that level, you may be able to avoid a drunk driving arrest.
Indiana became the first state to adopt the 0.15 BAC as the standard level of impairment in 1939. Minnesota didn’t follow suit so swiftly, which would become a common theme for the state in its debate over blood alcohol concentration. Eventually, in 1955, Minnesota tweaked its drunk driving laws. Under the change:
- Anyone with a BAC under 0.05 would be considered unimpaired.
- BAC levels between 0.05 and 0.15 could be used as relevant evidence that the driver was impaired, but that evidence could be contested.
- Alcohol levels of 0.15 or more were regarded as prima facie evidence that the person was impaired by alcohol, but this presumption could also be challenged.
Technological Advancements Change The Game
As the correlation between alcohol and impaired driving became more clear, and as technological advancements made it easier to determine a driver’s BAC, Minnesota decided to reevaluate it’s drunk driving laws. In 1967, Minnesota lowered the alcohol concentration standard to 0.10, and it lowered the “per se” limit four years later in 1971. The per se limit made it a crime to get behind the wheel with a BAC of 0.10 or greater, regardless of any other evidence of impairment.
The 80’s and 90’s saw a myriad of failed proposals to again tweak the drunk driving laws. Here’s a glimpse of the proposals:
- In 1989, a bill was introduced to lower the per se limit to 0.05, but it failed.
- In 1993, a bill was introduced to lower the per se standard for juveniles to 0.02, but it failed.
- A bill to lower the legal driving limit to 0.08 for all drivers was introduced in 1995, but it too was shot down.
It looked like the alcohol standard was going to fall in 1997, as the House and Senate both agreed on separate proposals to reduce the alcohol standard to 0.08, but a conference committee disagreed with the move, and the final version of the bill only included harsher penalties for repeats offenders and a lowered standard for underage drinkers. Amusingly, Governor Arne Carlson vetoed the bill, saying the underage provision placed “an undue burden on youth.” Only stiffer penalties for repeat offenders and those with twice the legal BAC limit were passed in 1997. A similar measure to lower the standard to 0.08 failed in 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2003.
Federal Government Gets Involved
As you can see by the failed efforts to reduce the legal limit around the turn of the millennium, Minnesota wasn’t keen to lower the legal driving limit, which held true even when the federal government got involved. After seeing the effects of drunk driving on a national scale, the federal government set a national alcohol concentration of 0.08, and they stated that states needed to adopt the standard by 2004 or they’d lose part of their federal highway funding.
Although it would only be a small percentage, states stood to lose millions of dollars in federal funding if they didn’t drop their legal driving levels to 0.08. 45 states dropped their limits to 0.08 by October of 2003, but Minnesota wasn’t one of them. Minnesota lost out on 2% of federal funding in 2004, and it appeared they were set to lose 4% in 2005, but the state eventually caved. Beginning August 1, 2005, the legal driving BAC in Minnesota was moved to 0.08. (Also, federal stipulations allowed Minnesota to recover that 2% they lost in 2004). Now, all 50 states and Puerto Rico recognize 0.08 as the national alcohol concentration standard.
Related source: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/aceight.pdf