Stiffer test for DWI advocated

January 27, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Carroll Del. Richard C. Matthews said yesterday that lowering blood-alcohol levels at which a driver is considered drunk would save lives.

But two representatives of the beer industry said that would not keep hard-core drinkers off the road. Education and stricter enforcement of penalties are better ways to reduce drunken driving, they said.

Mr. Matthews, a District 5A Republican, testified before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday on a bill he introduced to lower the blood-alcohol level for drunken driving from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent.

Mr. Matthews is a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Tougher drunken driving laws have reduced the number of alcohol-related fatal auto accidents in Maryland, he said. Maryland State Police statistics show that the number of deaths has declined since 1988 when the state lowered the legal limit from 0.13 percent to 0.10 percent.

In 1989, there were 327 alcohol-related driving deaths; in 1992, there were 210, Mr. Matthews said.

State police support Mr. Matthews' measure, House Bill 186. They submitted written testimony that said studies show nearly all people would experience impaired driving skills with blood-alcohol levels of 0.05 and above.

Elizabeth Buck, president of the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association and owner of a beer distributing company in Upper Marlboro, testified that educating people who sell alcohol about its effects is a better way to reduce fatalities.

"We are an industry that strongly believes education is going to change the future," she said.

Nicholas G. Manis, an Annapolis lobbyist for beer wholesalers, cited state police statistics showing that of about 69,000 breath and blood-alcohol tests administrated from 1990 through 1992, 83 percent showed blood-alcohol levels of 0.10 percent or higher.

"The real problem lies with hard-core drinkers and repeat offenders," Mr. Manis said.

Many repeat offenders continue to avoid harsh sentences, he said. As an example, he provided a newspaper report of an Anne Arundel County man who received six months in jail and a $300 fine for his seventh drunken-driving arrest.

Del. Mary Louise Preis, a District 34 Democrat and Judiciary Committee member, asked Mr. Manis how the blood-alcohol level relates to a person's ability to drive.

Mr. Manis said different toxicologists would give different answers. Ms. Buck said alcohol's affect on an individual depends on his weight, what kind of alcohol he is drinking and other factors.

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