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Clinton Signs "Zero Tolerance" Teen Drinking and Driving Legislation


January 1996

On November 28, 1995, President Clinton signed legislation that included a provision forcing states to adopt and enforce a "zero tolerance" policy against teenage drinking and driving ("U.S. Enacts 'Zero Tolerance' of Drinking by Teenage Drivers," Substance Abuse Letter, December 4, 1995, p. 3).

The new law requires states to enact laws considering drivers under the age of 21 with blood alcohol content of 0.02 percent (the content resulting in most cases from drinking one beer, a wine cooler, or a shot of hard alcohol) to be driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence of alcohol.

If states do not pass this legislation and demonstrate they are enforcing it by October 1, 1998, the government will withhold 5 percent of federal highway subsidies. In each of the years following, states not complying with the regulation will lose 10 percent of highway subsidies. The provision was part of S. 440, the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995, which sets out the rules for states to obtain federal highway funds.

In a June radio address, Clinton asked Congress to present him with "zero tolerance" legislation ("Clinton Takes Hard Stance on Underage Drinking and Driving," NewsBriefs, September 1995, p. 21). In a statement released after he signed the bill, Clinton praised Congress for sending the provision as part of the highway bill and said it would save lives. "It is already against the law for young people to consume alcohol. This national standard will reinforce these laws by making it effectively illegal for young people who have been drinking to drive an automobile," he said.