ANNAPOLIS – Holding true to his stated initiatives for the 2006 legislative session, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich is pushing a bill that would toughen the punishment for young people who drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Bernard Marczyk, a policy advisor for Ehrlich, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee late Wednesday evening that even though the General Assembly passed a number of bills with the hopes of curbing teenaged drinking and diving, teens still aren’t getting the message.
“The governor believes that having stiffer penalties will send a stronger message to the state’s youngest drivers,” Marczyk said.
The bill would require the Motor Vehicle Administration to suspend the licenses of drivers under 21 who have been convicted of an alcohol or drug-related driving offense for three years or until they turn 21, whichever is longer.
Currently, people who are convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol are treated the same way regardless of age. The MVA may choose to either revoke or issue a 60-day suspension of the driver’s license who has been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol.
Maryland State Highway administrator Neil Pedersen said this bill is the way to curb teenaged drinking and driving because the one thing that teen drivers fear more than anything is losing their license.”
He said 12 percent of the impaired drivers who were killed in traffic crashes in 2003 and 2004 were under 21 while young drivers only represent 5.5 percent of drivers in the state.
“We have a very serious problem in terms of drivers under the age of 21 who drive that have been drinking,” Pedersen said.
Lt. Col. Michael J. Fischer of the Maryland State Police testified that the bill would serves as a deterrent to young drivers who contemplate drinking and driving.
“I’m tired of picking up dead kids off the highways and knocking on parents’ doors and telling them of the tragedy that I’ve seen,” Fischer said.
AAA Mid-Atlantic submitted written testimony stating that in 2004, 22 percent of drivers aged 16-20 that were involved in accidents had alcohol in their systems.
“Although some may argue that this bill is too stringent,” the testimony read, “tough love is sometimes the best way to show our youth how much we love them and to serve as a deterrent to drinking and driving.”
Sen. Larry E. Haines, D-Baltimore and Carroll Counties, said he met with a group of high school students from his district and that about two-thirds of the 43 students admitted to drinking alcohol, though none would admit to drinking and driving.
“So obviously, they do it,” he said. “They really do get behind the wheel.” Haines said they expressed concern about the governor’s bill and lobbied him to alter it. “They said that they would like to see this bill amended, so it could be [suspended] for one and a half years and not three years,” he said.