Annapolis, MD — As the Maryland House Judiciary Committee considers drunk driving legislation today, the Coalition to Fight Hardcore Drunk Driving and the Maryland Impaired Driving Coalition held a press conference to urge the Maryland General Assembly to pass comprehensive drunk driving legislation that would significantly improve the state's drunk driving laws.
The joint effort targets hardcore drunk drivers or "higher-risk" drunk drivers, defined as those who drive with a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or above, who do so repeatedly, as demonstrated by having more than one drunk driving arrest, and who are highly resistant to changing their behavior despite previous sanctions, treatment, or education efforts.
"This legislation targets the hardcore drunk driver who is disproportionately involved in alcohol-related crashes throughout the nation. In fact, in Maryland last year high BAC drivers were involved in over 45% of the alcohol-related traffic fatalities," said Susan Molinari, Chairman of The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. "Maryland legislators have taken important steps to stop drunk driving in recent years, and now we must enact tougher penalties to address these hard-to-reach offenders."
Nationally, high BAC drivers are responsible for 58% of alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Nearly 8% of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2002 involved drivers who had at least one previous driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction. It is estimated that while drivers with BACs in excess of .15 are only 1 percent of all drivers on weekend nights, they are involved in nearly 50 percent of all fatal crashes during that time.
"The problem of hardcore drinking drivers is complex, and no single measure is sufficient to address this serious problem," said Richard Healing, National Transportation Safety Board Member. "We must address this issue comprehensively to ensure that we identify, penalize and rehabilitate these hardcore offenders."
"These devastating deaths and injuries caused by higher risk drunk drivers must stop," said Dean Wilkerson, National Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "Alcohol-related traffic fatalities decreased last year in Maryland, yet there is still work to be done to save lives and stop these dangerous drunk drivers. We are proud to work with so many Maryland legislators to keep these drivers off our roads."
The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, MADD and the NTSB are members of the Maryland Impaired Driving Coalition that also includes the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) and AAA Mid-Atlantic. The Maryland Impaired Driving Coalition is leading this year's efforts to pass tougher drunk driving legislation.
"Maryland has made some improvements in its drunk-driving laws, but clearly significant loopholes persist," said Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic's Director of Public and Government Relations. "The public will support sensible sentences for drunk-driving offenses, but judges in Maryland have shown time and again that they do not take the drunk driver seriously enough. If the police or the courts were to publicize the conviction rates and the sentences that drunk drivers actually serve, the public would be shocked. It is time to get tough on hardcore drunk drivers, who repeatedly demonstrate no regard for their own safety or the lives of other innocent motorists. AAA Mid-Atlantic is proud to stand with this broad range of safety advocates and concerned citizens, showing support for this year's slate of critical, bipartisan anti-drunk driving bills that will save lives if passed into law."
Sponsors of anti-drunk driving legislation attended today's event to urge support for the proposals. Senator Phil Jimeno (D-District 31) and Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-District 15) have introduced SB617 and HB 763 to establish graduated penalties for high BAC drivers at .15 and above and enhanced penalties for drivers who refuse the BAC test.
"Hardcore drunk drivers use BAC test refusal as a means of depriving the state from the most compelling piece of evidence needed to obtain a drunk driving conviction," said Delegate Dumais. According to the Maryland State Police, the BAC test refusal rate in Maryland was 27% last year.
"The establishment of enhanced penalties for high BAC drivers at .15 and above is just common sense," said Senator Jimeno. "These drivers are 385 times more likely to cause a crash than a non-drinking driver and the penalties should reflect the greater risk they pose on the roads."
Delegate Anthony O'Donnell (R-District 29C) is introducing a bill to enhance penalties for all repeat offenders. The current law allows for a 3rd and subsequent offenders to perform community service in lieu of jail.
"We must close the 'community service loophole' for repeat offenders. Community service is ineffective in altering the behavior of a convicted drunk driver. These drivers are a menace to Maryland's roads and must be given proven and effective treatment," said Delegate O'Donnell.
Senator Ida Ruben (D-District 20) and Delegate William Bronrott (D-District 16) are introducing SB307 and HB888 to restrict probation before judgment (PBJ) among repeat offenders by allowing only one PBJ in a 10-year period.
"Restricting the use of PBJ is important in identifying hardcore drunk drivers and applying effective sanctions, treatment, and aftercare," said Senator Ruben.
"A PBJ is a mere slap on the wrist and contributes to the revolving door through which too many drunk drivers repeatedly get a 'get out of jail free' pass," said Delegate Bill Bronrott (D-Dist. 16, Bethesda). "It's time to close this dangerous and lenient loophole in our law. It's time to treat drunk driving for what it is — the most frequently committed violent crime in our country."
Senator John Giannetti (D-District 21) and Delegate Petzold (D-District 19) are sponsoring legislation to establish tougher penalties for those hardcore drunk drivers who refuse the BAC test despite the requirement.
"Although the Maryland General Assembly acted in previous years to allow BAC test refusal as evidence in court, hardcore drunk drivers continue to use test refusal to their advantage and we must address that fact," said Sen. Giannetti.
Delegate Petzold added, "Refusing a BAC test makes it extremely difficult to identify and properly punish repeat offenders. We must toughen up the penalties to put a stop to drunk driving in Maryland."
National progress in reducing drunk driving has stalled in recent years. The number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities increased in 2002 to 17,419 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Of those, 265 occurred in Maryland along with thousands of injuries. For more information on hardcore drunk driving go to www.responsibility.org