ANNAPOLIS – On Oct. 1, drunken-driving arrests will get a little easier for Maryland law enforcement. The blood-alcohol level required to be found legally drunk while operating a motor vehicle or vessel drops from .10 to .08.
Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and police kicked off a campaign to publicize the new law. Their slogan: “In Maryland, drunk drivers have a lot less breathing room.”
“In Maryland, 195 people died last year as a result of drunk driving. This campaign and the $2 million federal grant will give law enforcement the tools it needs to prevent these tragedies,” said Townsend.
To help enforce the law, police will conduct more sobriety checkpoints.
“Unless people are being watched, unless they think it’s going to cost them . . . they’re not going to change,” said Maryland Motor Vehicle Administrator Anne Ferro.
To publicize the new law, enforcement agencies will use billboards, posters at gas stations and rest areas, coasters at restaurants and radio advertisements.
Police expect the number of convictions for driving while intoxicated will increase after Oct. 1, but not necessarily the number of total arrests, said Lt. Col. William Arrington, Maryland State Police deputy superintendent.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving will keep a close eye on the courts over the next few months to see if appropriate sentences are being handed out, said David Elzey, MADD victim advocate.
“Judges have a lot of discretion,” he said. “We like to keep an eye on what goes on.”
At Tuesday’s campaign kickoff, anyone could experience the effects of driving with a .08 blood alcohol level by wearing simulation goggles while trying to drive an obstacle course.
Many described the experience as disorienting and found they had to travel at slow speeds to navigate the course.
“If you were to go at a normal speed, you’d be all over the road,” said Parker Williams, Gov. Parris Glendening’s highway safety representative.
Williams said his sight was blurred, as though he was looking through the bottom of a plastic drink container.
While many saw the new law as a victory against drunken driving, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, vowed the fight would not end with this law. He guaranteed two other bills targeted at drunken drivers would be included in House legislation next session.
One bill would make it illegal for anyone in the car to have an open container of alcohol, and the second would increase penalties for repeat offenders.
Maryland has a two-tier drunken-driving law. A suspected impaired driver may be charged with either driving while under the influence or driving while intoxicated.
The lower tier – driving under the influence with a .07 blood-alcohol- level standard – was unaffected by the new law.
– 30 – CNS-09-25-01