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Ethics & Religion
March 31, 2016
Column #1,805
Maryland Toughens Drunk Driving Laws
By Mike McManus

 

After widely publicized deaths due to drunk driving, Maryland is close to passing a law that will require anyone convicted of drunk driving to install an ignition interlock device about the size of a cell phone into the ignition system of their car. The driver must blow into it to start the vehicle. If it detects any alcohol in their system, the car will not start.

State Sen. Jamie Raskin, sponsor of the bill that passed the Senate, said "There has never been such broad sentiment for the interlock before. We have to stop being permissive about drunk driving and the alcohol-related crimes."

What sparked the legislation was the death of Noah Leotta, 24, a police officer who was on duty at a drunk driving checkpoint when he was struck and killed by a vehicle whose driver was intoxicated and had previous drunk-driving convictions.

A similar bill dubbed "Noah's Law," has passed the Maryland House that will require an interlock if the driver has .08% blood alcohol content (BAC) - while current law requires an interlock only if the BAC level is 1.5% - nearly twice as high. Maryland will join 26 states with this tougher standard.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) began its drive for the interlock in 2006 when only one state required it for all offenders, and 13 states had no law at all. New Mexico, the pioneer, reported a nearly 40% drop in fatal crashes after passing the law, according to Carl MacDonald of MADD.

The number of cars with interlocks has jumped from 100,000 to 400,000. Result: the number of deaths involving one driver due to DUI (Driving Under Influence) has plunged in half from 12,139 to 6,390 in 2014 reports Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

However, nine states such as Louisiana, Indiana, and most counties in California* have no mandatory interlocks for first offenders and 14 states require them only for high BAC offenders such as Maryland, Florida and Nevada.

Last August this column reported another case in Maryland that involved the deaths of two teenagers after Kenneth Saltzman, 49, permitted alcohol to be served at a party hosted by his son. Six weeks after the accident I was critical of police for not charging Saltzman for allowing underage drinking. Some weeks later he was issued two criminal citations, and levied the maximum fine of $2,500 for each offense.

That seemed trivial given the fact that Alex Murk and Calvin Li died shortly after graduating from high school, and the driver, who was a star quarterback, was seriously injured but survived. All three boys were outstanding athletes.

The Maryland Senate unanimously approved a bill authorizing prison sentences for adults who provide alcohol to people who are underage, or host a party where someone younger than 21 is drinking.

What has become known as the "Alex and Calvin Law" will stiffen the penalty to up to a year in prison and a fine of $5,000 for a first offense and up to two years in prison and a $7,500 fine for a second or subsequent offense. Some 26 states have such a law.

During hearings, family members and law enforcement officials urged lawmakers to pass such a bill in Maryland. David Murk and Paul Li, fathers of the dead teenagers, gave emotional testimony, with Li telling the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that his heart "was shattered in pieces" when he went to the morgue to identify his son's body.

The judicial committee took a very unusual step of voting on the bill before the testimony was finished. It received a unanimous vote and people in the audience cheered while families of the two boys wept. The bill also passed in the House by a 136-3 vote.

Scripture is certainly clear. "Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?

"Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine." (Proverbs 23:29-30).

Every state should stiffen its DUI laws to save lives of both the drinkers and of the innocent.

______________

*Only four California counties require interlock mandates: Los Angeles, Alameda, Tulare, and Sacramento.

____________________________________________________________

Copyright (c) 2016 Michael J. McManus is President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To see past columns go to www.ethicsandreligion.com and hit Search for any topic.

 

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