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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,077
June 2, 2021
How To Reduce Drunk Driving Deaths
By Mike McManus

Five years ago a 15-month old boy, Liam, was being pushed in a stroller through a pedestrian crosswalk in suburban Los Angeles by his 15-year-old sister-in-law. The pedestrian light was green, but a car driven by a drunken driver, a 72-year-old woman, smashed into them.

They were rushed unconscious to a hospital. Liam died but his relative survived and began a slow physical recovery from her injuries and even slower emotional recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt.

The boy was one of 10,497 people whose lives were taken by a drunk driver in 2016.

Fortunately, technology is available that can virtually end drunken driving. The law should require that ignition interlock devices be installed in the cars of convicted drunk drivers. Such people would have to blow into a device which measures their blood alcohol content and prevents drunks from being able to start their cars.

In fact, technology exists that monitors vehicle movement with systems such as lane-departure warning and attention assist, driver monitoring systems that monitor the driver's head and eyes, to determine whether a driver is under the influence, and if so, prevent the vehicle from moving.

Congress has the power to virtually end drunk driving by passing the Halt Act (H.R. 2138) in the House and the Ride Act (S.B. 1331) in the Senate. These bipartisan bills would mandate a rulemaking by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that would lead to a safety standard to equip all new cars with drunk-driving prevention technology.

Maryland is a state which has blocked passage of such a law, thanks for one man, Rep. Joseph F. Valiario Jr, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in Annapolis. (He is also a trial lawyer who defends drunk drivers in court when he's not defending them in the legislature.)

While other states have added muscle to their drunk driving laws, which has helped cut the number of liquor-related fatalities on the nation's roads to a decades-long low, Maryland, beholden to the liquor lobby, hardly budges.

Vallario is refusing to allow a vote on the legislation which would require that breathalyzers be installed on the dashboards of vehicles belonging to people convicted of drunken driving. The devices, known as ignition interlocks, prevent drivers from starting their cars unless, having breathed into a tube that yields an analysis of the alcohol level in their bodies, they proved to be sober.

Maryland has had a law on the books, but owing to Vallario's influence, applies only to drivers who are stopped while falling down drunk, with blood alcohol connect nearly double the state's threshold for drunken driving. In a 180-pound male, that would mean drinking a six-pack of beer, or six shots of hard liquor, in the space of an hour.

Twenty-four other states, plus parts of California, require the devices for people whose BAC crosses the lower threshold, which means drunk enough to impair driving ability. In those states, liquor-related driving fatalities have fallen significantly, and in some cases, steeply.

Since a substantial number of liquor-related deaths involve people whose alcohol intake is less than the higher threshold for requiring the dashboard devices, there's no doubt that tougher laws would save lives.

By contrast, in Maryland's anemic law, the vast majority of drunk drivers are excused with a slap on the wrist after their first offense, thanks to a state law that allows probation before judgment. And research suggests that before an impaired driver is ever stopped by police, he's probably driven drunk dozens of times and gotten away with it.

Chuck Hurley, a Marylander who has advocated around the nation for tougher laws on behalf of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, says his experience in Maryland, and with the power of the liquor lobby in Annapolis, is unique. "I have lobbied in 40 states, and I have never run into this level of lock by the good old boys," he says.

It is time to steeply reduce drunk driving with mandated breathalyzers in cars of those convicted of drunken driving.


Copyright (c)2021 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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