02 February 2011

Strengthening Maryland's drunk driving laws: an update

In the wake of Andrew's death and after reports from the police that alcohol was potentially involved, I decided that I would spend my time and effort toward strengthening Maryland's laws against drunk driving.  This was especially important to me given that Maryland's punishment for manslaughter by vehicle when impaired by alcohol is among the weakest in the nation.

I met with my state senator (Senator Brian Simonaire, R-District 31) and his staff, who were very much open to the possibility of introducing or sponsoring legislation to strengthen Maryland's laws.  Knowing the slow, deliberative nature of legislative bodies, and knowing that compromise is an essential part of getting things done, I set reasonable expectations for myself: while I would love to see the sentences lengthened, I knew that eventually I would support any reasonable effort to curtail drunk driving.

Today, Delegates Eckardt, Afzali, George, Haddaway-Riccio, McComas, McDermott, McMillan, W. Miller, and Stocksdale introduced HB 318 in the House of Delegates; a similar version will soon be introduced in the Senate.  This bill would require mandatory participation in the ignition interlock program (currently, the program is available but only installed at a judge's recommendation).  Ignition interlocks may not have saved Andrew's live, but it could have saved a life in some cases.  I also recognize that this bill is not a panacea, but we must start somewhere.  Driving is a privilege, not a right, and the state has a compelling interest in protecting the lives of its citizens by preventing intoxicated drivers from taking to the road.

Senator Simonaire's staff called me yesterday and asked if I would be willing to testify at the committee hearing when the time comes. I told them that absolutely, I would do so!  The date of the hearing is TBD.

Last year, this bill passed the Senate but was held up in the House Judiciary Committee.  Governor O'Malley has already said he will sign the bill.

Lastly, would my fellow Marylanders do me a favor?  Please call your State Delegates and ask them to support and co-sponsor House Bill 318, the ignition interlock bill (I'll have the Senate bill here shortly).  To find your elected officials, go here and type in your address.  You will have three State Delegates and one State Senator (please note these are your Maryland state legislators, not U.S. Representatives or U.S. Senators).

I will have more to say in the coming days and weeks.

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