July 31, 2003 11:00 pm

The next time you drive your car or truck and it seems like you just don't get the kind of mileage you thought you should get, just give a quiet thank you to U.S. Sens. Kit Bond, R-Mo. and Carl Levin, D-Mich.

They recently offered legislation that passed, stopping another bill that would have required automakers to produce a fleet average of 40 miles per gallon by 2015. Instead, any changes in fuel mileage will have to go through the U.S. Department of Transportation. Simply put, the issue is dead and it means that no significant increase in mileage will take place in the foreseeable future.

A proposal offered by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., failed in the Senate 65-32. It appears that lobbyists for the automakers have just too much punch for consumer-advocate groups to overcome.

We do need some relief from automakers when you consider the number of SUVs on the nation's highways. So much gasoline is being consumed that any significant blockage of oil on the world market could send U.S. gas prices out of sight. This would make it almost impossible for most Americans to keep up with the escalating costs of operating a vehicle.

Levin certainly was trying to protect the auto industry in Michigan, but at the same time he may have helped create long-term trouble for the rest of our economy. Congress soon will need to come to grips with the need to make our automobiles more fuel efficient.

Crack down even more

As Oregon legislators argue over increasing beer taxes, one Woodburn family continues to grieve over the results of a drunken driver who killed the family's father and daughter. It is about time that legislators stop being so small- minded about the effects of drinking and driving and instead embrace the same attitude that has been taken about smoking.

On Tuesday, Rogelio Corona Cuevas, 40, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for driving drunk (his blood-alcohol level was 0.26) without his headlights on, crossing the divider on Oregon 99E and hitting another vehicle head on just two weeks after his fourth DUII citation. Killed in the wreck were Jose Luis Martinez, 41, and his 8-year-old daughter, Maritza Martinez Saucedo. Left without them were another daughter, Yeyre Martinez Saucedo, 18, Jose's wife, Imelda Saucedo Arevalo, and a newborn daughter.

Recent legislation to revoke the licenses of offenders after their third offense doesn't do enough to prevent tragedies like this one. Instead we need tougher laws that strip the drunk driver of any ability to get behind the wheel until he or she has learned not to drink and drive.

It is time that the Legislature increase the alcohol taxes in Oregon across the board on beer, wine and hard liquor, get tougher on those who sell alcohol to minors and start incarcerating those who drink and drive.