07 March 2011

Testimony to the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on SB 803 (3/8/2011)

March 8, 2011
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee
Statement of Mr. Michael Schearer on behalf of SB 803

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee,

My name is Michael Schearer and I am an Associate for Booz Allen Hamilton, as well as the owner of a small business, Leverage Consulting & Associates LLC, here in Maryland.  I appreciate the opportunity to offer testimony today regarding this legislation, and I want to thank Senator Raskin for sponsoring this bill, and especially Senator Simonaire, Ms. Iris Frey, and the Senator’s staff for meeting with me regarding this issue.  I am here today on behalf of myself, my wife Tracy and especially our son Andrew.

On October 3, 2010, at 10:28PM, the vehicle in which our son Andrew was riding was hit and violently spun around--Andrew was thrown from the vehicle and killed almost instantly.  Amidst the shock and sorrow of Andrew's death came the news that, according to police, the drivers of both vehicles were reportedly impaired.  Now, more than six months later, charges have yet to be filed.

I come before you today not to seek sympathy for the death of our son, but to ask our citizen legislators to act in Maryland's interest so that fewer fathers such as myself will have to return to you in future legislative sessions. I come before you today to support SB 803, the Drunk Driving Elimination Act (the ignition interlock bill).

In the last 30 years, Maryland has made significant progress in reducing alcohol related deaths.  In 1983, for example, 58% of all traffic fatalities were alcohol-related, with almost all of these drivers exceeding the legal limit.  In 1986, a record 407 fatalities were caused by alcohol.  In recent years, these numbers have nearly been cut in half--but we can, and we must, do more.

Maryland has a legitimate, and indeed, a compelling interest of protecting her citizens, and the citizens of our neighbor states, from the dangers posed by Maryland-licensed intoxicated drivers.  Requiring DUI offenders to install ignition interlock devices into vehicles they own and drive is clearly and unequivocally related to accomplishing that objective.

It is important for Maryland to learn and react to important lessons from other states that have adopted mandatory ignition interlock laws.  In New York, for example, drivers have borrowed vehicles from friends or family.  In one case, an intoxicated woman offered money to a stranger to blow into the device.  Maryland must be alert to creative drivers trying to bypass the ignition interlock, and must be vigilant to punish those who are found to have circumvented the law.  Those who enable drunk driving by helping to bypass ignition interlock technology are, in effect, handing a loaded gun to a drunk and hoping that he or she doesn't pull the trigger.

We must also ensure that the technology we install in vehicles is of high quality to reduce the likelihood of false positive readings.  Drivers who experience false positives must be presented with the opportunity to contest these results.  While we willingly burden DUI offenders with this program, we must ensure the program is not oppressive.  Focusing on, and addressing the potential problems now will help to reduce the litigation that will likely occur as a result of this law.

If Maryland decides to move forward with ignition interlocks, it should not and cannot do so without fully funding the program.  To do otherwise would seriously weaken its effectiveness and undermine its credibility.  It is true that times are tough, and sources of funding are difficult to come by, but this should not turn you away from furthering a compelling state interest in protecting our citizens.  When possible, the program should be paid for by the participants as is currently proposed by this legislation.

While it is not the focus of this bill, some have suggested that ignition interlocks should be installed on all newly-manufactured vehicles—the so-called “universal ignition interlock.” Let me state with conviction that I am equivocally opposed to this idea, and would return here to forcefully oppose such an over-reaching restriction on liberty.

We must recognize that ignition interlocks are not a panacea to fully eliminate drunk driving.  The ignition interlock is but one tool at the disposal of the state.  We must work to provide tougher sentences, especially for those drivers who negligent actions result in the deaths of others.  In that regard, Maryland's laws are among the weakest in the nation.  On paper, drivers convicted of manslaughter by vehicle when impaired or under the influence of alcohol are subject to a maximum sentence of 3-5 years.  In practice, most convictions are only a few months and a slap in the face to the families of drunk driving victims.  This is an embarrassment that must be remedied.

Governor O'Malley has repeatedly expressed support for, and willingness to sign the ignition interlock bill, which has made significant progress in the Legislature before.  I strongly urge Governor O'Malley and the members of this committee to call upon your colleagues in the Senate and the House of Delegates to pass this necessary bill.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee on this important issue. I remain available for your questions.
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