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Commentary Justice

Opinion: Six Lawmakers Protect Drunk Drivers Over Victims

Drunk Driving
An alcohol ignition interlock is a breath-test device connected to a vehicle’s ignition. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention photo.

In 2019, 167 people died in drunk-driving crashes in Maryland, representing nearly a third of all traffic deaths. That’s 167 of our mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, neighbors and friends.

As an advocate for victims rights, I have the honor of supporting the survivors and families of those injured and killed as a result of drunk or drugged driving. They may come from different backgrounds and stations in life, but they all have one thing in common: None of them ever want another person to suffer the trauma they have been through. That is why they have fought so hard to pass Senate Bill 672, which would close loopholes in Maryland’s all-offender interlock law.

All-offender laws benefit both the offender — who can continue to go to work and care for family — as well as the community. Offenders can still drive, as long as they’re sober. The data is unequivocal: All-offender laws change behavior and save lives. Those who use them are far less likely to reoffend.

In 2016, Maryland became the 34th state to pass an all-offender ignition interlock law, known as Noah’s Law for the Montgomery County police officer who was struck and killed by a repeat drunk driver while on patrol the year before. But under the current law, offenders who enter into pleas or diversionary programs avoid ignition interlocks.

This loophole makes Maryland’s drunk-driving law one of the weakest in the nation.

On March 11, six senators on the Judicial Proceeding Committee abruptly dismissed the grief of the victims and survivors I represent when they failed to improve the drunk-driving law in the name of politics. Their disregard delivered a gut-punch to those who have worked for years to make sure another family doesn’t have to live with the lifelong trauma caused by drunk driving.

Despite the disregard by these lawmakers – Sen. Robert Cassilly (R-Harford), Sen. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s), Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick), Sen. Charles Sydnor (D-Baltimore County), Sen. Michael Jackson (D-Prince George’s) and Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) — our fight will continue.

At Mothers Against Drunk Driving, our focus is on three numbers: 100, one and zero. The crime of drunk driving is 100% preventable. One death or injury is too many. And we won’t be satisfied until there are zero victims.

Over the past 13 years, ignition interlocks have prevented at least 67,197 attempts to drive drunk in Maryland. But statistics are only part of the story. At MADD, we stand alongside victims in the courtroom. We hold their hands and support them as they take the agonizing steps toward healing. We know that a fix to Noah’s Law would mean fewer of these devastating tragedies.

There is still time to fix the loopholes in Maryland’s drunk-driving law. State delegates can advance similar legislation — House Bill 749 — that is currently pending there. We urge everyone to call your delegates and demand its passage.

— ROBIN M. STIMSON

The writer is manager of victim services for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Mid-Atlantic.