ANNAPOLIS – If a proposed drunk driving law takes effect in Maryland, this is what will happen if a convicted drunk driver tries to start a car while intoxicated: nothing.
A bill sponsored by Del. Philip Bissett, R-Anne Arundel, and others would authorize the Motor Vehicle Administration to place an Ignition Interlock System inside a repeat offender’s car.
The device requires the driver to blow into a breathalyzer tube before starting the car. If the device registers alcohol on the driver’s breath, the car will not start.
Under the bill, drunk drivers who participate in this program could get a suspended license reinstated more quickly.
Advocates of the bill say it will sharply decrease the re- arrest rate of drunk drivers. The Maryland Coalition for Ignition Interlocks offered figures showing that 31 percent of those arrested for drunk driving in the U.S. are repeat offenders.
The device has been in use since 1990, but previous models have had problems. For instance, a driver could begin drinking once the car was started. In addition, there was no way to set different alcohol levels on the device.
The latest version solves those problems, said Darrel L. Longest, coalition chairman and CEO of Life Sciences Corporation, the Rockville company that makes the systems.
Now, the driver must blow into the tube intermittently while driving. If the driver does not, or fails the breath test, the car’s horn begins sounding and the lights flash to warn other drivers.
The horn and lights will not cease until the car’s ignition has been turned off.
Any lapses or failures of the test are stored by the device and automatically sent to a probation officer.
If the driver has had any alcohol, Longest said, the car will not start.
“This is a zero tolerance device,” he said. “Maryland has decided that [convicted drunk drivers] should not be drinking at all.”
Lawmakers are trying to ensure that people with drinking problems seek help.
“I think this will give individuals time to see that they can get along without alcohol,” said Del. Pauline Menes, D-Prince George’s.
Similar laws are already in place in 35 states, including North Carolina and Ohio. Reductions in re-arrests of drunk drivers “have been nothing short of amazing,” Longest said.
Field tests conducted in West Virginia and Maryland show that the re-arrest rate for convicted drunk drivers using the ignition interlock device was 1 percent, down from approximately 30 percent.
Longest was also optimistic that his company’s device will be used widely in Maryland.
“I’ve seen a lot of states adopt these laws, and this is a model statute,” he said of the pending bill. “I would expect that this one has the greatest chance of getting passed.” The legislation has generated no opposition. -30-