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Don't put W.Va. 9 money at risk over DWI law change

October 03, 2003

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd this week said that West Virginia will pay a big price if it doesn't lower the state's blood-alcohol level from .10 to .08.

Up to $26.5 million in federal funds needed for the widening of W.Va. 9 could be lost by 2007, Byrd's office said, unless the Legislature acts.

We agree with Byrd. The price is too high, because unless that road is widened, the accidents that have killed and injured so many will only continue.

For most of its route, W.Va. 9 is a two-lane road with little or no shoulder. With no room to pass and little room for error, it's earned a deadly reputation.

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In August, Zachary Marshall Jones was killed near Berkeley Springs when he hit a tractor- trailer while trying to pass another vehicle. He was just 18.

The archives of The Herald-Mail are filled with such stories, so much so that when a fatal crash occurs in the Eastern Panhandle and it's not on W.Va. 9, we're surprised.

There has been much litigation on the alignment of the road and the historic properties it would pass through or around. But it's the present that concerns us.

In a growing area, this road is inadequate to handle the traffic it carries now, much less what it will have to bear if growth continues. Its present condition is not a plus for economic development either.

But economic considerations aside, the road needs to be improved because it is a deathtrap. And while the notice of such fatalities may occupy most readers' minds for a day or so, the friends and families of those killed mourn for them a long time, if not forever.

So it is also with the families of those victimized by drunk drivers. Not only is there the pain of the sudden loss of a loved one, but a perpetrator's case can take months to come to trial, preventing the victim's family from finding a way to continue with their lives.

Most Western European countries consider a .08 blood-alcohol level unacceptable, with .05 the more common standard. Some who oppose the change argue that it would adversely affect the restaurant and tavern business.

To that we reply: Only if no one in the group will agree to be a designated driver, a small sacrifice to make when lives are at stake. In 2004, lawmakers should embrace the .08 level and save the cash needed to fix W.Va. 9.

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