State inaction drying up federal highway funds Industry lobbyists often crow about how few drunks have been turned out of truck driver's seats since the feds implemented mandatory drug and alcohol screening regs a few years back.

But sad to say, trucking has yet another fight with good old John Barleycorn on its hands. And the funny thing is, we didn't hear about this one from any industry source.

Rather, it caught our eye while perusing the USA Today newspaper's web site one recent day. Perhaps floating the account here will inspire some of trucking's lobbyists to put the underlying issue front and center.

According to the report filed by USA Today reporter Jessie Halladay, more than half the states are in danger of losing federal highway funds. The sobering reason why? They haven't taken the simple legislative steps needed to toughen up their drunk-driving laws to meet federal standards.

Everyone in trucking ought to be asking their statehouse delegations the same question: Why the hell haven't they kept up with the times?

After all, this isn't like when Washington tried to clamp down on speed limits out West. And even people who loathe gun-control laws aren't known for endorsing drinking and driving as behavior protected by the Constitution of these United States.

Far from it. Most citizens, even those who enjoy the consumption of alcoholic beverages, agree the right to drive a car, truck, bus or motor scooter for that matter, while intoxicated is as limited as the right to punch their neighbor in the nose.

Halladay states the loss of highway money will result from a two-year-old federal law requiring the states to pass open-container laws (ending the time-honored tradition of driving with a can of beer in hand) and to slam repeat drunk drivers with stiffer penalties.

States without such rules on the book by the first of this month will lose 1.5% of their annual federal highway-building allocation - for each unmet requirement.

As of last month, 16 states had not met either and faced losing 3% of their 2001 allotment. Of course, those seemingly miniscule percentages translate into big bucks, or more exactly, millions of dollars that won't be spent on road and bridge improvements next year.

The report cites Georgia, a state a lot of trucks surely roll through, as one bad example. No matter what its legislators may feel about states' rights, if the Peach State doesn't rewrite its drinking-and-driving statutes it will have $22 million less to pump into its highway projects.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only 29 states (and the District of Columbia) have done away with open containers in motor vehicles and just 22 states have gotten tougher on repeat DWI/DUI offenders.

Many states have already blown the loot for next year, since their legislatures adjourned before meeting the October 1 deadline for compliance set by Congress. We can only guess they had more important things to do for the first nine months of this year, not to mention all twelve of last year.

"Show me the money" could be a campaign slogan for statehouse seekers next year in Missouri, whose lawmakers called it a year without rewriting their laws enough to keep $14 million tucked in its highway coffers.

Now, this story wouldn't be complete without a touch of irony. Turns out these rogue states won't lose the affected money. They'll still get it. But instead of spending it on highway improvements, Congress has directed that they must spend it instead on - you guessed it - highway safety programs.