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Senate Backs Underage Drinking Bill

The Senate demanded zero-tolerance for youths who drink and drive Wednesday but decided that rules on motorcycle helmets, auto speed limits and open containers of alcohol should be left to the states.

Sometimes emotional debate raged over the National Highway System bill, with senators seeking to complete action this week. The measure, still facing action by the House, retains federal rules calling for seat belt use and keeps speed limits on large trucks and buses. The Senate hopes to complete action on the bill today.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. pressed for zero-tolerance of alcohol use by drivers under age 21, rather than judging them by adult intoxication standards. The amendment was approved 64-36.

Zero tolerance, already law in 24 states and the District of Columbia, “recognizes that teenagers and alcohol - any amount of alcohol - is a dangerous and often lethal combination,” Byrd said.

States that fail to enforce zerotolerance by 1998 would lose 5 percent of their federal; highway funds, and 10 percent every year thereafter. Similar sanctions, voted in 1984, resulted in the current minimum drinking age of 21.


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