Friday, Sept 25–Tougher DUI Initiatives Become State Law Next Week

BERLIN – Maryland’s drunk-driving laws will get a lot more stringent next week when a handful of bills passed by the General Assembly during the 2009 session go into effect.

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and members of the governor’s Task Force to Combat Driving Under the Influence of Drugs and Alcohol this week announced sweeping changes in Maryland DUI laws that will go into effect across the state including Worcester County next Thursday, Oct. 1. The changes were promulgated by the General Assembly’s passage of at least four bills related to drinking and driving during its session earlier this year.

Included among the four bills passed during the 2009 legislative session to tighten the state’s drunk-driving laws and close loopholes were two that should limit “get out of jail free” cards for repeat offenders. For example, one piece of legislation passed by state lawmakers last spring will mandate a one-year driver’s license suspension for individuals convicted of Maryland’s impaired driving statutes two times.

Another bill set to take affect next week would eliminate the possibility of probation before judgment (PBJ) for individuals arrested for driving under the influence more than once within a 10-year period. The current law closes the window on prior PBJs in drunk-driving cases after five years.

Another law set to go into effect next week would impose stricter rules on persons violating alcohol restrictions on their driver’s licenses imposed by the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) including harsher fines and incarceration. Yet another bill would tighten the laws related to the consumption of alcohol by persons under the age of 21 and criminalize the furnishing of alcohol to minors.

Brown said this week the bills borne out of the governor’s task force on drinking and driving signal the administration’s commitment to strengthen state laws to penalize first-timers and repeat offenders.

“The O’Malley Administration is committed to closing the legal loopholes through which drunk drivers too often escape,” he said. “Our message today is this: drunk driving is preventable and if you choose to break the law and take lives into your hands, we are providing the necessary tools to our law enforcement officers and judges to ensure that you cannot and will not do it again.”

Recently appointed President of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association George Johnson IV echoed the lieutenant governor’s sentiments.

“Despite the massive education and enforcement efforts underway to prevent impaired driving, Marylanders are still drinking and getting behind the wheel,” he said. “Maryland law enforcement officers arrest 24,000 people annually for impaired driving. A large percentage of these lawbreakers are repeat offenders. Additionally, we’ve seen an increase of impaired driving by young, inexperienced drivers who should not have access to alcohol in the first place.”

The importance of Johnson’s message is borne out in the statistics. Drivers under the influence of alcohol and drugs caused more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities in the state. Of the 592 traffic deaths in Maryland in 2008, 152, or 26 percent, were alcohol-related.

The Task Force to Combat Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and Drugs was formed during the 2007 General Assembly session. After 18 months of in-depth review of Maryland’s impaired driving system, the task force submitted a report with 42 recommendations to help strengthen impaired driving prevention, which resulted in a bevy of new drunk-driving bills passed by state lawmakers this year.

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