With deaths related to drunken driving on the rise in Maryland, state lawmakers and highway safety advocates are hoping the statistics will help them pass more severe penalties next year.
Fatal crashes involving drivers with blood-alcohol levels of 0.08 percent or higher rose 12 percent in Maryland last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported. The state had 209 such fatalities last year, up from 187 in 2003.
“Over the last decade or more, the state of Maryland has been stuck in neutral, riding on a complacent plateau in the war on drunk driving, and now it’s very clear that drunk drivers have caught up with us,” Delegate William A. Bronrott told The (Baltimore) Sun.
The Montgomery County Democrat and other state policymakers said more severe penalties would be one option for combating drunken driving during the next legislative session.
Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, and vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said state lawmakers will “give serious consideration to bills that would deter people from drinking and driving.”
State lawmakers have taken steps to combat drunken driving in recent years, and highway safety advocates hope the new statistics will lead to tougher penalties for repeat offenders, teenagers who drink and drive, and violators with high blood-alcohol levels.
In 2002, a state law banning open alcohol containers in the driver or passenger areas of vehicles went into effect. The violation is punishable by a $25 fine.
Another state law went into effect that year that makes it a felony to flee a crash that causes death or serious bodily injury. Previously, the violation was a misdemeanor, which encouraged drunken drivers to flee from accidents without calling for medical assistance for crash victims. In some cases, the extra time enabled them to sober up before they were arrested.
In 2001, the state’s standard for blood-alcohol level was lowered from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent after years of arguing by highway safety advocates.
During the next legislative session, Gov. Robert Ehrlich plans to reintroduce an initiative that would revoke for three years the license of a driver younger than 21 who is convicted of an offense involving drunken or drugged driving, said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor.
“Governor Ehrlich is absolutely committed in getting drunk drivers off the roads and making travel on our roads as safe as possible,” Fawell said.
State Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. of Prince George’s County has long supported the ignition interlock, a device that checks sobriety before a vehicle will start.
In the next legislative session, he said, he plans to reintroduce legislation that would allow judges to force those convicted of drunken driving to use interlocks for up to three years.
“People have to go to work, go to treatment, and they can do those things with interlock,” Giannetti said.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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