Uncle Sam does not always get what he wants. But when the federal government is determined to get states on board with specific policy charges that depend on state law, the will exerted by that wealthy uncle in Washington often holds sway over the states.
Consider, for example, what happened with blood-alcohol content (BAC) limits in drunk driving cases. Not so long ago, most states had a threshold of .10 for DWI or DUI. Then some states started lowering their thresholds to .08. But the trend toward .08 was given a major push when the federal government threatened to withhold transportation funding from states that refused to lower their limits.
More recently, federal regulators have been encouraging states with ignition-interlock device (IID) laws to use a new type of device. We discussed this issue in our recent article on IIDs and DWI convictions.
The federal agency involved is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Currently, ignition-interlock devices in Texas and across the country involve a breath test analysis that is connected to microchip. The microchip, in turn, is conducted to the ignition.
NHTSA has proposed a simpler alternative to this two-step system. It would consist of a driver pressing a button after placing hands on the wheel.
It is unclear how strongly NHTSA will push states to try to get them to adopt this new system. The same is true of the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation that states lower their BAC thresholds from .08 to .05.
Experience shows, however, that the weight of Uncle Sam in our federal system can be considerable.